True Caliber: Targeting the Real Issues of Gun Violence
Gun violence is one of the longest hot-button issues with little to no resolution. In fact, the other issues garnering more traction in that respect are racial or income inequality. Sadly, both seem to be contributing factors to why this buzz word is tossed around like a hot potato. Whether it is the victims of the Parkland shooting, or Black Lives Matter protesting more black lives lost, it seems that the issue is not going to end any time soon, without real results and real moves to change them.
Where we are
When I found out about Parkland, I was pissed. ANOTHER mass shooting?! But, as quickly as the anger and sadness came to my mind, it was batted away by a sudden wave of jaded frustration. The same cycle of anger, determination, and apathy came over me when I found out about Stephon Clark, a black man killed outside of his home. Even the body cam and heat sensor footage of them gunning him down didn't shake me.
I want change, truly. That is not in question at all. What has been puzzling me for years is the escalation of violence. If you are like me and born between 1977 and 1994, you are in Generation Y. We lived through Columbine, 9/11, Virginia Tech, and more acts of senseless violence, while much of our childhoods made levity of the brutality in entertainment and we didn't care. Still don't, quite frankly. Many of us 80s and Y-gen kids thought we would never be old or scared at all. Now that we are past the time of slapstick and fart-joke coded tunnel vision, we see that the world is just as messed up as it was when we were kids, if not worse. One thing that the baby boomers and X-gen had going for them was that they didn't have as much knowledge about how messed up things are. With the internet decades away, it was easy to feign ignorance. Now with us being able to connect with a lot more news coverage, as well as emotional rants from our peers multiple times a day, it's easy to try to protect oneself in the face of something that looks like the apocalypse. Personally, I look fine on the outside, but in my head, I'm screaming ENOUGH ALREADY! With our lives overrun with meaningless distractions and senseless tragedies, how do we get out of this place of comfort and shoulder-shrugging to actually bring this issue to the table?
Talking about Guns
One of the major pieces to the puzzle is to theoretically rip off the band-aid; bring the issue forward in all of its uncomfortable, triggering glory and let it fester. Yet, whenever people usually bring up the issue, what are they met with? Diversion tactics. The issue of making our country safer is made into a shouting match over how to classify and perceive a gun as well as a user of a gun. Whenever I am in conversations about a shooting, the protests, etc., people usually start listing off buzz words like mental health, banning guns, arming public servants (like teachers), etc. In my opinion, it's easy to get fired up over an issue that you feel has an easy solution. It's even easier to promote an issue that you know nothing about, especially if your opponent is usually just as clueless as you are. Despite the fiery debates, one thing that gun rights activists and gun control activists seem to agree on is that that if you are intent on killing, you will find a way to kill, no matter the weapon or the circumstances. They also agree that we need more protection, and to know that all of our moral, legal, and safety interests are being protected. Where the two seem to differ, though, is in answering which we should control: the gun or the user? Is a shooting a gun issue or a personal, mental health issue?
It's clear that there is something wrong here, but problem isn't just the gun. It's about the people that take up arms to harm others, but it's also the entities and statutes in place that could have prevented these tragedies, but alas, for the Parkland High school students and staff, they and the assailant slipped through the cracks. In the case of Stephon Clark and the unarmed citizens being gunned down senselessly, they have also slipped through these legal webs. Tangled right with them are their families and friends, along with other victims of gun violence, including those living in poor urban and rural areas and those trapped by their traumas. Addressing one circle of thought is ignoring the very real aspect to a solution that is needed here.
Gun Control - More laws
Gun control activists want the AR- 15 to be banned. I believe this is a good course of action, but there has to be a clear plan of how to remove the weapon, and get it out of illegal circles as well. That makes it tricky, since most people that own the gun have purchased legally though the very same legal oversights that put badges on officers or mentally ill people in positions to care for vulnerable people. Again, if you're driven to kill, you will kill. The assault rifle allows one shooter to kill many people at one time, making it efficient if that is your goal, but not so much for showing that it is anything other than a weapon of war. However, what is the method of protection that will be used to keep people safe, should an intruder come into the unarmed school, or other state-run building? A good number of incidents have happened not involving guns that put people in jeopardy, such as the Slenderman incidents where students tried to poison or stab classmates, or when a young man slashed his crush to death when she rejected his offer to take her to Prom.
Mental health is another issue brought forward by gun control supporters. We need more regulation for who can buy a gun. Will those regulations be retroactive? What do we do about corporations and those in higher income brackets endorsing illegal gun activities? Yes, they should be brought down, and yes, that is wrong. Yet, consider what happens when we try to tackle election fraud or money in politics. I am not saying stop the fight; I am saying that if this is the cause, create solutions that utilize federal, state, and local entities and budgets. This is not an open and shut issue, or one where any sort of blanket is welcome.
Gun Rights - More of the same
For the gun rights advocates, I do understand your point of view as well. The more government reaches, the more restrictions come, and some populations have had enough of that. What I am talking about, though, is not more regulation. I am talking about monetary spending, such as investment in programs with real socioeconomic forecasts of success. Right now, the programs that are in place seem to not be fully capable of properly assisting others. Instead, they constantly restrict people to have specific paperwork, or jump through hoops, but still not have any real support or strategy when a threat to our lives or livelihood is present. Yet, no one is trying to dismantle the 2nd Amendment. Until there is a solid plan, guns won't be taken either. The fact is that a lot of people who are gun-rights activists still retain biases concerning who should own a gun, and it's usually based on mental health, religion, or skin color. A real conversation about guns is needed, and we need citizens that will either see that gun control is OK or it isn't. At this point, there has to be a line drawn. If you feel that arming teachers is the answer, is that OK for Black, Hispanic, or Muslim teachers to conceal-carry? Should guards be armed and patrolling the grounds? Is it OK for other staff, like the front office staff or the janitor to conceal-carry? Is this going to create more ICE crackdowns at school? All of these questions and more come into play and most conservatives and gun control opponents do not have the answers for them, which is a problem.
Many gun rights advocates say metal detectors or armed guards are the solution. The detector becomes meaningless, though, if the shooter opens fire before even entering the door, i.e. from the doorway, on the quad, or in the parking lot. This idea isn't without merit, though. Regarding armed security being on campus, there are many problems here too. As I have stated, police have their own can of corruption-flavored worms that have created scandals. Trigger-happy fingers and money-grubbing palms have all but removed most of the public's trust in officers' competency. An officer has already been in hot water this year after opening fire on an unarmed teenager at a courthouse. Furthermore, at the Stoneman Douglas High incident, there was an armed guard at the high school who allegedly took cover outside. It shows another instance of professional oversight. This is especially true if the school only had one armed guard to patrol yards and yards of real estate. I can see this as still a viable option, though, as long as there are enough people trained to honor those they are there to protect, and are vetted by background checks for violent incidents and mental health history. As soon as the law books catch up to the steroid-infused, racially incompetent, mentally ill, and corrupt brand of violence by police, I will happily accept more police presence. Also, if students carrying weapons is a problem, then maybe clear backpacks are in order. In that case, the state should be able to have enough funds for public schools to hand these backpacks out to kids the moment they are enrolled in schools, along with a set of school supplies for that grade, along with planners, and a welcome letter from their teacher or the principal. Yet, all of those things require money.
To me, gun violence is a legal issue on a state and local level. Let me be clear, there should be NO way for someone with a history of violence or mental health problems (without a stable treatment history) to get a gun. The fact that people were able to get one and kill is a problem of neglect and legal oversight. This is especially the case when there is oversight in who we are hiring to serve and protect. If there are reports that say "Hey, they probably shouldn't get a gun because everyone in town knows they've got some issues," or "hey, they have a history of racial, domestic, or peer-related violence," then let's do something other giving them a gun, ok?
Regardless of what solution(s) we choose to put into play, the US government needs to put more money to the states for that to happen, and our legislative bodies in Congress literally holds all of it. The state governments should hold the power to demand help (and receive it) from the federal government regarding security, as schools help to mold the most precious and limited resource that can add value to the US dollar: the people. Our representatives need to help us stop the cycle of violence and complacency. State governments also should be able to demand assistance from corporations that advertise, or utilize public services in the state, like sports stadiums, corporate hospitals, and private prisons. We need more federal money put to public services that really work to curtail the poverty. We need to demand support and ensure that there is as much effort to make sure students are guarded from invaders as there are to make sure teachers have advocates in their city employers and will be able to do their jobs efficiently.
These topics are hard, especially when the wounds are fresh, but the victims going viral and refusing to lay down and take more injustices towards the fallen need support. This is boiling out to a giant call for help with a wide-spanning issue that takes away thousands of lives. Regardless of where you fall in the gun control spectrum, both of these sides are lacking in major follow-through and contingency plans in case these plans fail. We as adults need to be the guards of the next generations. We need to keep talking about these mass shootings. Stop with the prayers, good vibes, and eventual complacency. If it's a tragedy, it needs to be addressed to stop it, otherwise, its just a statistic (Marilyn Manson reference). The country cannot heal with bandages of hope and prayer, gun control or mental health laws. All of these are great, but alone they mean nothing.
We don't need political mouthpieces, being an incognito spokesman for whatever corporation bought them their summer home in the mountains. Our babies are having to step up where we have said we can't. It doesn't matter that you don't understand politics, know even less about federal economics, or there are big words thrown around on the news that make no sense. We all were ignorant of politics until we got fed up with how things were going and learned. I don't want the politicians to tell me it can't be done, they can just tell me they don't want to because they're being paid to tell us that it's not possible.
*This article originally appeared as "Gun Violence - A Progressive Perspective" on 2/28/18, it was altered and updated by the author on 3/29/18.