Another day, another shooting

Overblown rhetoric serves no one in preventing mass shootings

There have always been unhinged individuals at the fringes of society – people who have broken the social contract and acted upon debased whims. But the number of these individuals who are taking to mass shootings is horrifying. The sudden, terrorizing conversion of a public venue such as a college or mall into a shooting gallery freezes the nation and brings about the question of what went wrong every time it happens.

And it is happening far too often.

Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Oregon is yet another example of this stereotypical and rote incident. Stories are already circulating – a veteran tried to stop the shooting. The shooter asked if people were Christian. He committed suicide. The investigation and profiling will go one for months, even as the incident slowly slides from our memories.

While the oft-quoted statistics on mass shootings in America are exaggerated to a degree, no one can deny that the problem is escalating.

But the rhetoric employed in the wake of such events isn’t helping. The gun lobby staunchly opposes any change and the pro-gun control folks propose either radical laws or nothing at all. We can vividly recall shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and the movie theater Aurora, Colorado – but did anything meaningful come from those events? Did anything change that would help prevent these tragedies from occurring again?

It seems like nothing did.

President Obama addressed the nation Thursday and said that Americans had become numb to mass shootings given their frequency. He called the nation’s response “routine” in that those who oppose “any kind of common-sense gun regulation” will call for more guns and fewer gun safety laws when in reality there should be a gun law overhaul.

“Each time this happens, I’m going to bring this up,” he said. “Each time this happens, I’m going to say that we can actually do something about it.”

There has been slight progress in officials’ reactions following shootings. The sheriff in charge of the UCC investigation is refusing to identify, and thus glorify, the shooter. The creation of infamy through exhausting media coverage of these shootings causes a major conundrum – there is a need to talk about why such shootings are happening but we have seen that such coverage inspires other shooters.

But a more ingrained problem lies in the fact that access to guns, often in an illegal manner, becomes the outlet for individuals with mental illness. Mass shooters often procure their weapons from family members, usually without said family members realizing in time. There is no real cure for that problem beyond banning guns, which is a poor solution for multiple reasons. Background checks, while a good start, won’t prevent this troubling trend of guns falling into the wrong hands through simple ignorance.

Obama’s frustration, while laudable, isn’t expressed in any kind of realistic terms. Calling on the United States to emulate British and Australian gun laws is a non-starter for multiple reasons. The UK in particular did not have a strong gun culture before the bans; the United States obviously does, though ownership has tightened in recent years. Furthermore, violent crime has skyrocketed in the UK and a series of increasingly Orwellian bans and security measures have had to be enacted.

It is now illegal in many places in the UK to purchase butter knives if you are under the age of 18.

We need to get to the root of what ails our nation and get to work fixing it. The mental health of the United States needs to be examined and addressed. A limited addition to gun control laws would help as well, but any such laws should be carefully considered. They should not be a repeat of other laws that simply ban cosmetic features on guns.

Whatever happens, it needs to happen now. There are rights on both sides of the argument and they need to be respected. But such views can’t polarize our society. The time has come to act, not forget and allow history to repeat itself once more.