We could focus on Virginia Tech. Or Aurora. Or Sandy Hook. Or Isla Vista. Or, most recently, Marysville Pilchuck High School.These are just some of places that mass shootings have happened in the United States over the past decade. Whenever one of these happens, the gun control debate reemerges, letting the country reflect (and ultimately do nothing) about one of the biggest problems our country faces but really doesn’t want to talk about.
But it isn’t just about mass shootings.
Shamiya Adams was at a friend’s house for a sleepover in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. It was a cool July night, but Shamiya and her friends were inside eating s’mores around a fake camp fire. Then a bullet tore through the house and struck her in the head. She died at Mount Sinai Hospital a few hours later. Her life ended on July 18, 2014, just 11 years after it began.
Shamiya’s murder didn’t get much media coverage outside of the Chicago area. Mass shootings are rare, sensationalized. July 18 was just another night in Chicago.
There have been 1,582 shootings in Chicago since the beginning of the year, according to data gathered by the Chicago Tribune. That is one city with a population of 2.7 million people in this country of more than 316 million people.
The United States is in desperate need of a real, rational conversation about the place of guns in our society. But unfortunately, this seems almost impossible. For any progress to really be made, two things have to happen.
First, people need to look at facts and statistics and accept them. In the United States, there were about 32,000 gun-related deaths in 2011 — the most recent year such data is fully available — according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). While many people will read that number and think it translates to homicides, that is not actually the case. Only 34 percent of those deaths were gun-related homicides. Instead, 61 percent of gun deaths are suicides. The rest of the figure is composed of accidental deaths and justified (self-defense) homicides.
Meanwhile, the CDC tallies a little under 74,000 non-fatal gun-related injuries in the same year.
There are a variety of factors that brought about the total of roughly 106,000 gun-related shootings. Mental illness, peer pressure, self-defense and carelessness are just some of the elements at play. Mental illness in particular gets a lot of attention — and rightfully so — after mass shootings and gun-related suicides. But the only factor common to every single incident is the presence of guns. No rhetoric can overcome that fact. Only willful ignorance can deny it.
The second requirement for progress is that ordinary gun owners need to retake control of their public image. The National Rifle Association represents the average gun owner about as well as ISIS represents the average Muslim. The organization, embodied by Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, insists that the only way to “stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” It refuses to even consider the possibility of trying to prevent the bad guy from getting a gun in the first place.
In April 2013, an amendment to a Senate bill that would ensure universal background checks could not get the 60 votes necessary to beat a filibuster — with 41 of the 45 Senate Republicans voting to block the motion. This happened despite 90 percent of the country supporting the amendment, according to the Washington Post. The vote took place five months after the Sandy Hook shooting left 28 dead.
Charlie Cox of the NRA called the proposal “misguided.” When the organization and the political party that most people associate with gun owners blocks a reasonable law that would have made it so that every private individual who wanted to buy a firearm needed to go through a background check, it makes gun owners look bad.
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America is an organization created after the Sandy Hook shootings that wants “legislators, state and federal; companies; and educational institutions to establish common-sense gun reforms.” One of the most prominent ways the organization does so is by urging stores and restaurants such as Target, Chili’s and Kroger to prohibit the open carry of firearms within their buildings.
CJ Grisham is the founder of Open Carry Texas, an organization that opposes Moms Demand Action. He has called the members of Moms Demand Action “ignorant, retarded people” and “thugs with jugs.” Additionally, Open Carry Texas activists often show their opposition by openly carrying assault rifles in stores.
Those are the names, faces and actions that taint the public image of gun owners. The reactionary, petty and immature figures who get splashed across newspapers, websites and TV news programs make gun owners look like deluded psychopaths. The reality is, though, that most gun owners are normal Americans who either own their guns to go hunting or for self-defense from intruders. These people need to step up and reclaim the public image of gun owners, ones who are capable of listening to both sides of an argument and acting rationally.
Without these two things happening, there is little chance that the United States will solve its gun problem any time soon. All in all, it comes down to everybody involved slowing down, taking a breath and actually talking to each other. That is the biggest obstacle. In the highly polarized political climate that we live in, gun control is one of the most polarizing issues. The two sides seem to be incapable of having any substantial discussions about the issue, while Americans die around the country.
Every single day, people kill themselves with guns. Every single day, people kill others with guns. Every single day, people suffer life-changing injuries because of guns. We are doing nothing to change that.
It’s time we start.