Reflecting on Thursday’s shooting in Roseburg, Oregon that took the lives of 10 people, President Obama reminded us that gun violence has numbed the country, especially the decision makers. “This is happening every single day in forgotten neighborhoods around the country,” he said. Truer words have not been spoken.
Oh, except for his earlier statement: “Our thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
Hundreds of families have been wrenched apart by these tragedies that are happening far too often. Last night, instead of having dinner together or chatting about their school days, 10 families looked at empty chairs and silent phones, forced to deal with the shock of “how could this happen?”
We know most of the victims had barely begun their life journey, while some had much experience – 18 year olds Quinn Glen Cooper, Lucas Eibel and Rebecka Ann Carnes; 19-year-old Lucero Alcaraz; 20-year-old Treven Taylor Anspach, 33-year-old Jason Dale Johnson, 44-year-old Serena Dawn Moore, 59-year-old Kim Saltmarsh Dietz and 67-year-old professor Lawrence Levine.
And for those of you who think I may have miscounted, shooter Chris Harper Mercer is included. Can you imagine, just for a moment, the horror and shock that his parents are dealing with? Not only is their child dead, but he most likely brought about the deaths of nine people. That’s a double whammy for which no parent can prepare.
Shootings in the classroom, workplace, church or public gathering places – we stuff the critical information in our collective memories and shuffle on. Thirteen dead in Columbine. 26 in Sandy Hook, 12 in Aurora, 9 in Charleston, 32 at Virginia Tech and two journalists in Virginia. We grieve. We bring in counselors. We build monuments. We promise to hug our loved ones. Then we give up.
Why have we thrown up our hands in helplessness?
The Second Amendment allows us to have guns, stating: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Good words when they were written, but worthy of regulation, such as background checks and waiting periods. I don’t think that stronger gun control would help. Oregon is an open carry state and there was a person in the thick of the action who had his own sidearm and chose not to go after the gunman because responding SWAT team members might have confused him with the actual shooter. More guns are not the answer.
And I’m not naïve enough to think that tighter gun laws would influence people like Mercer who came to the campus intent on killing people. That old “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” principle holds true. Criminals don’t generally obey the law and changing the Constitution is not the answer. I understand why we cherish our right to bear arms, but I cannot fathom why we think we need things like AK47’s that exist for the singular purpose of killing other people. Give those to the military and take them out of civilian hands.
If the NRA is really supporting responsible gun ownership and safety, why don’t they use their formidable lobbying power to make mental health resources affordable and available to all? Along with strengthening and funding community programs, we need to change our attitudes to remove the stigma of being an outcast if one seeks help.
It all comes down to one simple four-letter word that needs to be addressed: hate. How do we stop the hate?
Rodgers and Hammerstein were criticized for their song “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught,” from their 1949 musical “South Pacific.” See if you can determine why:
You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!
We really don’t like it when someone holds up a mirror, do we?
We can change this juggernaut of hate. How about starting by squelching partisan politics? How about the name-calling parts, where adults and elected officials become playground bullies in three-piece suits, turning a blind eye at any achievement by individuals of the “other party,” just because it’s popular to discredit and ridicule them?
Where do we cut the vitriol? What kind of example are we setting for our children, and for that matter, our fellow human beings? How do we justify cherry-picking the parts of the Constitution or the Bible to suit our current cause? And when do we stop rewriting the facts to reinforce our hate?
It’s got to stop. The more we operate as if it’s “Us vs. Them,” the bigger the cancer of hate grows.
We allow – and fund – campaigns to undermine each other and drive people to desperation. We disrespect each other routinely. Why are we surprised that these shootings happen so often if we treat our colleagues and constituents with hostility and anger?
Is absorbing this behavior – from Washington and the shooter-of-the-week – really the best response? Where is the outrage? Posting a rant on social media doesn’t count. Contact your elected representatives, tell them you want them to find a solution to making our schools, churches, shopping centers and others public places the safe places they were meant to be and make them listen. Don’t let them just form another blue ribbon committee either. Make them work, and when they don’t, vote them out.
“When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work together to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different…doesn’t make sense.