Yesterday when I was following the horror show in Virginia I had a not-undark thought: maybe this will finally change something. Maybe watching live as someone with a gun doles out the swift and blinding violence that guns are made for, seeing how quickly things can go from normal to deadly, experiencing how things speed up and slow down all at the same time when something horrible has occurred will shock people into action. Maybe it wasn’t real until people saw it for themselves, and now that they have, we’ll have to address this issue. Maybe this will change something. To which the even darker side of my brain replied, “Yeah, like all news stations will now have to be on an eight second time delay.”
And I hate that I feel this cynical about reducing gun violence. On most fronts, I’m not an optimist as much as I’m a pragmatist. Sure, there are problems in the world. But as long as we’re willing to address those problems, we can research the issue, try a whole slew of possible answers, and figure out which ones help. We can reduce problems. Even when we can’t solve a problem, we can help. And when it comes to guns, we don’t help.
This tweet has been floating around the internet for the past few months, and almost perfectly identifies what I’m feeling:
In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.— Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) June 19, 2015
That came two days after the last time we all gathered around our TVs and computers to talk about the most recent tragedy involving gun violence. And in those two and a half months, we’ve done absolutely nothing.
I don’t mean that we’ve failed to curtail access to guns, increased background checks on individuals looking to buy guns, or closed loopholes that allow private sellers to forgo background checks. I’m not talking about just the (what I consider) common sense gun control measures that about what most Americans want. I mean we’ve had no substantial laws passed to decrease gun control either. Which you could argue is a good thing, but I don’t see it that way. I’m fully in favor of stricter gun control laws because I believe that will reduce gun violence. Gun control opponents, say the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, believes more access to guns will reduce gun control violence (or at least he purports to. For the sake of this argument, I’ll take him and other gun control opponents at their word and not read any additional motivations into their beliefs). And neither one of us has done anything significant to either increase or decrease the number of guns in the U.S. Both of us watch shooting after shooting after shooting, believing that there is a way to change this, and both of us did nothing.
Maybe it’s because the issue seems too large and too deeply connected to other problems we have to take on. Fighting for gun restrictions means taking on the NRA and indirectly our country’s entire lobbying system. Which turns into campaign financing which means Citizens Untied. Which means instead of trying to change one law to make it impossible for a recently disgruntled employee to purchase or carry a firearm, we’ve got to transform the system by which Congressional members get paid by convincing Congress members to change the law. It’s overwhelming. And seemingly impossible. And so instead of trying to change this, I hope that things will change and move on.
And I mean me personally. There have been almost 2,000 shootings in my city this year alone, and I’ve done shit about it. I haven’t protested, I haven’t contacted my alderman, I havent gone to any city council meetings. Because I didn’t know any of the people shot. Because even if I am horrified by Sandy Hook and Aurora, CO and Charleston, none of them directly affect me. When things seem so impossible to fix and the personal effects on my life are so little, it’s easy to ignore the issue after a while. We get to ignore it because we can. We get to ignore it because we don’t have to see it.
Except now that we’ve had to.