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On Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 a tragedy played out on the American stage. It ended with nine wounded and 10 dead, including the main actor in the shooting. The mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon last week was indeed a grim event that will stay with that community for years to come. However, if it follows the trend of American responses to gun violence, it will pass by the nation’s realm of focus with little more than a tear down Uncle Sam’s cheek.
The reality is that as a nation, we have become numb to gun violence, allowing details of each specific shooting to carry much less force than they should. Mass shootings are a routine aspect of the contemporary United States; the specific community grieves, there are broad yet unfollowed calls for change, and then the nation shifts its focus to something else. The average American certainly identifies with the sadness of such a situation, yet for many this reaction is merely another part of the routine, and therefore is inherently superficial.
The unsettling recurrence of mass shootings in the Unites States was highlighted in a statement made by President Obama following last Thursday’s shooting. In the 15th iteration of such a grim address during his presidency, Obama called for the American people to do more than send their thoughts and prayers to those immediately affected by the shooting. He points out that while the majority of Americans support the move toward stricter gun laws, there are others who claim that restricting access to firearms would be a violation of the Second Amendment. These others seem to be speaking with a louder voice, at least in the ears of Congress.
Perhaps the reason why the majority cannot push Congress to act when it comes to gun violence lies in the fact that the issue is not on the top of Americans’ priority lists. We view each specific occurrence of the issue as a sad event, yet fail to understand the way they are all linked to a larger problem, let alone one that we can change. While many denounced the way some politicians like Donald Trump and Jeb Bush simply brushed off the Oregon shooting by more or less stating that things like this just “happen,” the reality of the situation is that these responses are the mirror image of our own ambivalence toward the issue.
America is one of the few advanced nations where mass shootings occur on a regular basis, and it is unique in the fact that it does not act to prevent the same thing from repeating itself. It is therefore extremely possible for nations to prevent mass shootings from occurring without placing major restrictions on the liberties of their citizens.
In terms of safety, we focus on cybersecurity and the War on Terror rather than recognizing the very powerful and very real danger we all face. More Americans have died from gun violence than have ever died from terrorist attacks, and yet by failing to expand gun control, pro-gun representatives and activists are doing nothing to make Americans more safe in their own communities. There certainly is a war on terror America should be fighting, but perhaps the location of this war is much closer to home than many would care to admit.
Obama called for Americans to push their government representatives to actively pursue stricter firearm laws, and while this is certainly necessary, as a nation we must first refuse to allow the Oregon shooting, or any other act of mass violence, to fade into the mundane routine of life. In order for Americans as a whole to be safer in their communities, the nation must first come to its senses about gun violence.
Contact CU Independent Staff Opinion Columnist Emily McPeak at firstname.lastname@example.org.