I first heard of the tragedy via NPR, which I check frequently throughout my work day. A sharp inhale, brief nausea, blinking slowly – once, twice. The headlines did not change, this was not a nightmare, but reality. I was plagued the rest of the day by the kind of knot in the back of your throat that just doesn’t go away and the horrendous chore of going about the usual tasks as if nothing were wrong. Something was very, very wrong. And, like every other anxious American citizen feeding the media machine, I had to get to the bottom of it. I had to make sense of it. But first I had to cancel my plans Friday night, put on my pajamas, and spend a decent amount of time staring blankly at the wall. And then I read. I read, and I read, and I haven’t stopped reading until now.
Articles about gun control, articles about security, articles about mental illness, articles about the social contract, articles about God, articles about suicide killers, articles about the history of the second amendment, so, so many articles searching for explanations and for solutions. Many of them were wonderful, thoughtful, well-written, persuasive – some of them were not. I was in a reading frenzy. I took it on as my civic duty to research and consume as much material as possible on any related subject matters, distracting myself from the unsettling feeling of helplessness that so often accompanies the realization of how broken our society is. WE ARE BROKEN.
And the time has come to do some fixing. Some people have been crying out about how a tragedy shouldn’t be used to advance a political agenda. I fully agree. Preying on the emotionally vulnerable is a persuasion tactic I do not respect. But pushing for better gun control and care for the mentally ill after a brutal massacre does not fall into this category. If the media were telling us that now we should all go buy Campbell’s soup because of its uncanny comforting powers, or that Mitt Romney was secretly behind all of this, I would be upset too. Instead, people are coming together to recognize some very serious flaws in our system and trying to move forward. They are taking something awful and turning it into positive energy and determination to prevent this from happening again. This is not about individual rights. This is not about red and blue. This is about the health and safety of our society.
Of course, I am not afraid to admit that I am biased. I have long thought that we need to overhaul our education system, our healthcare system, and our prison system. Children who are mentally ill so often go unnoticed or get screwed over by schools that don’t know how to help them, or don’t have the funding to. People with mental illness do not get the care they need, and they often end up homeless or jailed. This is not the way to handle human beings with serious problems.
Additionally, I am about as anti-gun as it gets. Guns horrify me. A gun is a violent weapon designed to kill in an instant – I cannot see them any other way. The fact that people have any desire to possess an instrument so powerful and destructive is sickening. The problem is that not everyone sees guns this way. For some people, guns represent tradition; for others they are simply a commodity, a collection, or a pastime; for some people guns are a tool to make others listen and gain instant respect; for others they are a means of self-preservation. Guns have become a casual product in this society – featured excessively in video games and popular movies, however guns are anything but casual. I could care less why you want to own your gun – but I do care that your gun has the power to recreate last Friday’s events. You do not know your gun’s future. One day, it may take your life.
In conclusion, those of you who know me probably knew exactly what I was going to say just from the title of this entry, but I still felt the need to say it. In Philadelphia, 321 people, the majority of them under the age of 29, were killed by guns this year. I am afraid for our futures – or lack thereof.