October 8, 2015

KOWALEWSKI | A Recurrent Tragedy

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We have a problem.With an unrelenting frequency, our nation has endured mass shooting events. Last week’s shooting in Oregon is just another example of the incidents that are shattering the civic foundation of the United States. Once more, a classroom turned into the scene of mass murder. Once more, we are collectively asked to accept the idea that this is just something that happens.

Our failure to enact gun control not only poses a threat to our physical health as a nation, but also our moral and social health. Our colleges, our schools and our churches should not have to fear the looming threat of gun violence. Even in these places where communities come together to nurture their minds, American children are not safe. This atmosphere of terror cannot be sustained; we must act.

The landscape of our nation is beginning to resemble a memorial of tragedy, as shootings transform the map into a reminder of our inaction. Columbine, Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, Chattanooga, Umpqua — thriving towns and cities that will forever be remembered by their worst moments of suffering.

But the need for gun control does not arise merely because of these singular events. A slow motion massacre is taking place every day. The United States has the highest rate of gun violence in the developed world: More than 10,000 Americans have already died from gun violence in 2015.

We have tried the approach of loose gun laws, and this is the result. Indeed, for years now, our national policy has been controlled by the virulent opposition of special interest groups, including the NRA. Whenever a gun control measure is introduced to Congress, the gun lobby immediately begins a strident negative campaign. Not only does this lobby oppose particular pieces of legislation, but each November, they mount a sizable effort to defeat any elected officials who dare to consider a solution to this national epidemic.

To be clear, there are millions of Americans who are genuinely concerned about the rights of gun owners. And no gun control proposal will be perfect. However, NRA lobbyists often attempt to connect reasonable gun regulations to the end of all gun ownership. Further, certain politicians have indulged in and perpetuated these misconceptions. Rather than working together with their colleagues as honest advocates of government restraint, they have opposed even the most rational reforms.

It is shameful that this issue has become so partisan. After the recent shooting in Oregon, Republican politicians universally retrenched against any type of gun control measure. Some of their reactions were offensively absurd — Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal blamed the shootings on abortion and video games — but all of them rejected the idea that the violence warrants any type of serious gun policy response. Jeb Bush, a leading “moderate” voice in his party, responded to the shootings with a simple declaration: “stuff happens.”

It has not always been this way. Few figures occupy such a paramount position in the Republican pantheon as President Ronald Reagan. Yet, in 1991, Reagan wrote an op-ed urging Congress to pass the Brady Bill, a landmark gun control measure. He made clear that his position was motivated by the attempt on his life that paralyzed his Press Secretary, James Brady. Today, his deeply personal plea for action would be bemoaned by leading Republican minds as the politicization of tragedy.

I introduce this example not to showcase partisan hypocrisy, but to illustrate how modern American politicians have betrayed the broad consensus of the public. Large majorities support fixing our broken gun laws: It is only through a failure of our democratic system that we continue to see inaction. After years of acquiescence, it is long-past time to fight back against special interests. It will not be easy, but the costs are too great to ignore.

As noted by President Barack Obama last week, we have somehow allowed horrific gun violence to become normalized. His anger was palpable — the exasperation of a President who has addressed the nation on mass shootings on fifteen separate occasions. But his frustration is far from resignation: He has pledged to stand up for reform every single time these incidents happen. We must stand with him, and push our elected leaders to pass common sense gun control. To do any less is to look at the innumerable amount of lives, families and communities devastated by gun violence, and think “this is fine.”

Kevin Kowalewski is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He may be reached at [email protected]. Democratic Dialogue appears alternate Thursdays this semester.