Over a decade ago, I returned to my apartment after a law school class and flipped on the TV to see coverage of a breaking news story taking place in Colorado. Two students had entered a high school called Columbine and started shooting, eventually killing over a dozen people. At the time, pre 9/11, it was one of the most shocking, violent things that had happened in my lifetime.
Yesterday, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and saw a breaking news tweet about a shooting in Connecticut. Initially, I barely paid attention. My first thought? Oh, another one.
A couple hours later, I turned on CNN and couldn’t turn it off again. I continually refreshed my Twitter stream, following news and reactions. I kept wondering why.
I wasn’t wondering why the shooter did it. We may never know that and, frankly, I don’t know if it matters.
No, I was wondering why our country has gotten to this point.
Why have we gotten to a place where we reference “the last school shooting” and “the next school shooting” – as if another one is inevitable?
Why are there more shooting deaths in my adopted hometown of Chicago in one weekend that there are in some European countries in an entire year?
Why have there been more mass shootings in the United States that all other European countries combined?
Why does the United States have a higher rate of gun violence than any other “rich” country? The only countries with more gun violence than us? Places like Colombia, Brazil and Venezuela.
Why do we have so many guns in this country? Yes, I know all about the Second Amendment – I am an attorney, remember? But honestly, I am sick and tired of that being used as an excuse by the gun lobby for people to have guns. It is moot today. The fact that they argue that people need guns to protect themselves from other people who have guns just proves the point of how messed up we are as a society today.
Why does anyone need a semi-automatic weapon? The mother of the shooter in the Connecticut shootings had at least three – all obtained legally based on what has been released so far. Why the hell does a kindergarten teacher in a small town in Connecticut need 3 semi-automatic weapons?? Again, why does anyone?
I read this article about gun laws in Japan with fascination and admiration. Almost no one owns guns in Japan and, as a result, they have fewer shooting deaths in most years than many US cities have in a day. Even those who do own guns have to go to great lengths to get them:
To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.
I’m not naïve enough to think we can get rid of all guns in the United States. But why can’t we at least make it a heck of a lot harder to get them? And yes, I realize people who really want to kill may still find a way to get them – but in a majority of mass shootings in recent years, the shooters obtained the guns legally. If stricter laws were in place, maybe they wouldn’t have had access to a gun in the first place. And maybe the time they would’ve needed to obtain a gun would’ve been enough time for them to change their minds or lose their nerve – or for someone to intervene and stop them.
I know it isn’t all about gun control.
But consider this – an elementary school was attacked by a man in China this week. But in that case, the attacker had a knife, not a gun. As a result? They suffered injuries – not deaths. I’m not trying to minimize what those poor families in China have gone through, but their children are still alive. Twenty children in Connecticut are not.
Beyond the gun aspect, think about this: the United States has a higher homicide rate (4.2 per 100,000) than Australia, New Zealand or any EU country. That isn’t just killing with guns – that’s all murders. The rate in the UK? 1.2 per 100,000. Spain? 0.8. Japan? 0.3.
The bigger question to me is – why have we developed such a culture of violence in the United States?
A few weeks after returning to the country, I was watching TV with a friend and the show Criminal Minds came on. The crimes committed in that particular episode were so gruesome, I had to turn away. I felt sick. The next night, it was the same thing, but a different show. Neither involved gun violence, but both involved extreme violence nonetheless.
Why has this become entertainment? I can only speak anecdotally, but in my year overseas, I never saw such violence on television in other countries. I feel like we live in a country that increasingly glorifies violence in television shows, movies and video games that we accept in the name of entertainment and we approve under the guise of the First Amendment. Again, I know all about the right to free speech, but don’t we have to draw the line somewhere?
There’s no single cause. If anything, the guns, the movies, the video games and the violence are symptoms of a society that is simply broken. I look back on my childhood, in which I played outside and rode my bike around the neighborhood and hung out at the mall or at the movies and my parents didn’t have to worry. Slowly, we have evolved into a country where my 4-year-old niece and 2-year-old nephew may not be able to the same.
So today I just feel sad. I feel sad for the families in Connecticut, but even more so, I feel sad for our country. And I just keep wondering why.