Mass shootings aren’t a tragedy; they’re our way of life

Friends, this in an AR-15 rifle:


Back in March, when we were having our European adventure, almost every police officer who was guarding an historical/tourist site was carrying one. Not militarized police, just regular police. Regular police directing tourists to the nearest metro station with one of these slung over their shoulders. It freaked my partner right out. I tried making sense of this to her.

Because an AR-15 *does* make sense for police who are on guard patrols. These guns are big/scary/intimidating (a prominent, visible deterrent), they are are easy to fire (accessible to officers of multiple ability levels), they are accurate at long ranges (easier to train officers, easier to be accurate without advanced skills), and they are highly effective (can end a violent situation quickly).
All of these reasons are why this gun should be reserved for law enforcement and *not* accessible to the general public. Because, while yes, we have a problem with police abuse of power – if shit is going down, I *do* want the police to have the upper hand, to have a higher level of equipment not accessible to the general public (though I don’t want them having tanks, grenades, etc. – there’s a difference between “the upper hand” and a militarized civil police force, but I digress …) I don’t want Joe Citizen jumping in and trying to play hero (“Do you know what the definition of a hero is? Someone who gets other people killed.” – Zoe Alleyne Washburn).
Returning to her original concern, I pointed out that these “scary guns” were available for legal purchase to anyone legally allowed to purchase guns in the U.S. That when gun activists cry about their right to “open carry,” they are including these guns. Some of them definitely intend to  have one of these guns slung on their backs as they order their extra shot no whip frappucino. She was shocked. Maybe it’s because neither of has lived knee-deep in gun-culture? Or maybe it’s because our state comes in 49th when it comes to firearm death rate per capita? (See where your state ranks, here) Or because our state has more restrictive gun laws than many others? Who knows?
The point is this: gun violence is a public health issue. It cannot be fixed with “thoughts and prayers.” It cannot be fixed with #[insert city/location]Strong hashtags. It cannot be fixed by insisting that criminals don’t obey gun laws and so more gun regulation is just a burden on the law-abiding citizen. After a mass shooting in 1996, Australia enacted super strict gun regulation. Guess what? No major mass shootings in Australia since 1996. It only took them once to learn their lesson. And this is a land mass initially colonized, in part, by people with a criminal record!
Take a look again at the picture at the top of this post. What purpose does this gun serve? Hunting? No. Do you need this gun to prevent the government from quartering soldiers in your home against your will? No. Do you need this gun to form a local militia to protect yourselves against a tyrannical government? No. Does this gun actually prevent tyranny? No. If anything, the NRA have become tyrants – in terms of their subverting the will/demands of the people in order to enact their own laws and policies.
On June 13th, the 165th day of this year, there have been 136 mass shootings. That’s almost once per day. These shootings aren’t “tragic events.” A tragic event is something that few people predicted, that came as an almost complete surprise, something that happens infrequently. Mass shootings are now our way of life. The fact that we have seen nearly as many mass shootings as days in the year, that mass shootings have become our way of life — *that* is the tragic event. It’s not that the shooters were mentally ill or religiously radicalized or criminals – it’s that we live with laws written and bankrolled by the NRA. Each mass shooting is not an isolated event with its own unique narrative — they are all part of the larger narrative: mass shootings are our way of life now. We don’t need more citizens with guns, more widely-distributed active shooter protocols, more lockdown drills. We need fewer guns.
Gun violence is a public health issue. It is a preventable disease. We need to start addressing it like we would any other disease affecting us. The American Cancer Society estimates that 565,690 Americans will die of cancer in 2016. 23,319 people have already died in 2016 from gun violence. If we keep this pace, 51,584 people will die from gun violence by the end of the year. How many walks, fundraisers, etc. have you seen or participated in for cancer? How many articles have you read this year about cancer prevention? Our gun problem is at least 10% as big as cancer — we need to give it at least 10% of the attention, funding, etc. we give cancer.
If you ask any experienced oncologist, they will tell you that the biggest advancements we have made in cancer are in prevention, not in treatment — drastically reducing the smoking rate, better and more consistent screenings to catch cancer early — prevention has reduced deaths due to cancer more than any advancements in treatment. Likewise, with gun violence, we need to focus on prevention.

Thought experiment: how would you feel about elected officials who voted with tobacco companies, with companies irresponsible with radioactive waste, with companies who are actively negligent when it comes to exposing us to known carcinogens? THAT is how you should feel about elected officials who continue to vote against regulations to prevent gun violence.
We know how to prevent gun violence. We can do it with more certainty than preventing cancer. If someone gave you a near-foolproof way to prevent cancer, you would take that advice in a heartbeat, right? We need to take that advice with gun violence.
And, most importantly, we need to ensure that those who represent us, who are making these laws take that advice — that they make laws to protect citizens, not gun lobbyists. Check out where your elected officials stand on preventing gun violence.
If you only do one thing to respond to the 136 mass shootings so far this year, call or write your elected officials and demand that they only consider legislation that will reduce gun violence. Especially if they have a history of not doing so. Stop keeping the dead and their families in your “thoughts and prayers.” If “thoughts and prayers” fixed gun violence, we’d have fixed it 100X by now. Instead, keep your elected officials on speed-dial or e-mailing them on your weekly to-do list. Only vote for candidates who pledge to support legislation that reduces gun violence. Mass shootings are our way of life; it doesn’t have to be that way and we don’t have to accept it.

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