October 7, 2015

POP CULTURE, POLITICS AND PERCEPTION | The American Affliction

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By SARAH PALMER

I was going to write about the crisis in Europe, but in the wake of the shooting in Oregon it seems wrong to write about anything else. Thursday morning I woke up, I went to class, I was tired as I sat through my 8:40, I went to section and dissected Virginia Woolf’s view on the impetus of violence. After, I went to lunch, laughed with my friends and spent more time complaining about my reading than actually doing it. As I was going through the motions of another day of learning, a list was being made — a list of names: Lucero Alcaraz, Quinn Glen Cooper, Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, Lucas Eibel, Jason Dale Johnson, Lawrence Levine, Sarena Dawn Moore, Treven Taylor Anspach and Rebecka Ann Carnes. People like me who were going through the motions until they were reduced by bullets and hatred to simple names on a list. In an English class at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, each one of them was killed.

Virginia Woolf would say that one thing that unites humanity is our gut reaction to atrocities. The kick to the stomach feeling that makes you shut your eyes as you try to calm the ache in your heart. However, she would be quick to add the caveat that our differing perspectives on this act of violence are what immediately stratify society. We differ on how to address this violence and the question “What do we do now?”

It is our job to supply the only justice we can; it isn’t to punish the man who is already dead, it is to start reforming the society that made him. Now I’m not going to say that there is something inherently American in mass shootings. We are not alone in these tragedies, but our stubborn resistance to change has set us apart. In the wake of each atrocity we tighten security. After Sandy Hook my own high school locked the doors and required everyone to check in and out. All this seemed to do was add to a feeling of fear, a feeling that somehow we are unsafe. This is an image that the media is quick to employ — if it bleeds, it leads. Then every TV show seems to be a crime drama portraying horrible violence: We are in danger! We have to lock the doors! We have to monitor the people around us! We have to buy guns! And here we are at guns, where this conversation naturally leads.

People are quick to remind me that we have the right to bear arms. I cannot deny this, but I always hear this voice in the back of my head saying, “Yes, but this was created in a time when our main defense was militiamen and people hunted to survive.” However, backing away from this argument, I would like to address the opinion that somehow has taken root: that guns are not to blame. How long has it been since Columbine? Over 15 years and we still cannot decide whether guns killed those students or if it was just hatred. We make it about the shooter, they were sick, they were full of hate; we make it about the institution, they didn’t have enough security, they didn’t search bags and lock doors. It is like our country has an epidemic and instead of discovering the source and addressing it, we simply deal with each case individually. Somehow, we are convinced that society is simply not safe enough, that it isn’t our high tech weapons, obtained too easily, which not only put death at a distance, but also make killing effortless. Now, a mass killing is strictly routine.

It only takes one person to kill many. No matter how safe we make our high schools, no matter how many bags we search at cinemas, we can’t predict where the next act of violence is going to take place. We have to stop dealing with the symptoms and start getting to the source. I can only dream of a de-fanged society in which guns are banned. I understand that to some, the words “the right to bear arms” are sacred. However, it is time we acknowledge that guns have a place. There is no reason for a semi-automatic gun used not for protection or hunting. Background checks and oversight will protect a vulnerable society, which shouldn’t have to compromise personal freedom for safety.

Think of Lucero, Quinn, Kim, Lucas Eibel, Jason, Lawrence, Sarena, Treven and Rebecka. They were killed by bullets, from a gun, in the hand of person. While violence between humans has existed since we first stood up, there is a lot of space both temporally and militantly between a rock and a rifle. We need to address that space and realize that the checks we place on our society have to assuage the cause of violence, not the result. We are responsible for making our society safe; no more justifying, it is time to give justice. Justice for Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Ft. Hood, Binghamton, Virginia Tech, Killeen, University of Texas, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Umpqua Community College and many more. We need a lasting justice, but maybe all we can give is a promise — a promise that it will never be this easy again. That we will work from this moment on until we as a nation are cured. So that everyone going to work, to a movie or to a classroom doesn’t have to empty their bags or lock the door because society itself is keeping them safe.

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