More Than Thoughts and Prayers: Important Conversations in the Wake of a Tragedy
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More Than Thoughts and Prayers: Important Conversations in the Wake of a Tragedy

This is most definitely the time to talk about politics.

More Than Thoughts and Prayers: Important Conversations in the Wake of a Tragedy

Four conversations we can have in the wake of yet another mass shooting, because thoughts and prayers alone do not and will never do enough. And also because, once again, silence is violence.

1. Gun Control

Let’s start with the obvious conversation. When our Bill of Rights was written, the reality of this country—and the reality of guns—was much different. We had just declared our independence from an unfair and oppressive government, it was the 1700s, and we hunted for the majority of our food. Naturally, people were apprehensive of authority, and needed a way to feel secure should the need to once again fight for independence and freedom arise. With the lack of technology and fast emergency response systems, people needed a way to secure themselves should they be attacked. And since it was more common to spot a wild animal on the corner than a grocery store, obviously a means to get a hold of dinner was necessary. Further, guns during this time period could realistically only fire one or two bullets per minute, not dozens in only a few seconds. I do believe that the Second Amendment is an inherent part of American citizens’ rights, but I also believe that laws and their interpretations must change with the times. There’s nothing wrong with people wanting a personal means of protecting themselves against a potentially rogue government or a nighttime burglar, or still enjoying the sport of obtaining one’s own food in the woods, but an assault rifle is hardly a necessity for those activities. Additionally, background checks are just common sense. If a background check can be required to be hired for a job, surely one can be required before purchasing a weapon capable of taking a life. Anyone who thinks routine background checks are a means of taking guns away from people is missing the common sense. If you’re a law-abiding citizen with no record of violence—which presumably the vast majority of people making this argument are—no one is coming for your guns. And yes, highly-motivated criminals will still find means to get their hands on weapons, but making it harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get them will no doubt reduce the number of unqualified gun owners. Consider applying the same concept we apply to owning a car to owning a gun; training is needed, knowledge and skill tests are required, insurance is obtained, and inspections take place at certain intervals. I’ve never heard anyone complain about it being too hard to get a driver’s license or a car to the point where they feel like their rights and freedoms are being infringed on, and it’s made for safer roads with less unqualified drivers. We can’t keep pretending that we live in a government “by the people, for the people” while our representatives are being bribed by the NRA, and are subsequently putting personal profits over constituents’ lives. At the end of the day, someone’s right to bear arms cannot trump someone else’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

2. Mental Health

There’s been a loud narrative in the past several years that attributes tragic shootings to the mental health of the shooter, rather than the prevalence and access of guns in the US. While I disagree with this, having a conversation about mental health is definitely necessary, especially because of the irony present in this situation. The same people—particularly the politicians—that claim mental illness is to blame for mass shootings are the same ones pushing for cuts to funding and access of health insurance/care. The reality is that we need more funding and coverage for mental health care, and we also need to start talking about it in a way that doesn’t stigmatize it. By only bringing it up in the media when it’s seemingly connected to a mass shooting, it only further stigmatizes mental illness. About 20% of adults in the US live with at least one mental illness, yet 20% of American adults aren’t running into schools or malls or offices with guns, taking away others’ futures. The vast majority of people who suffer from mental illnesses are nonviolent individuals. Mental illness does not equal instability; it’s not something to be ashamed of or swept under the rug. Having positive conversations about it is important in helping people get help, but also in taking pride in being who they are, including the piece of them that is their mental illness. The fact that someone’s brain functions differently than others’ shouldn’t mean that they lose a constitutional right just because politicians are conflating mental illness with violence.

3. Toxic Masculinity

I read an article the other day (which you can find over here at Harper’s Baazar) that analyzes in depth—with supporting evidence—the links between gender and the specific type of violence that are mass shootings. Our culture socializes men to believe they are entitled to an array of certain things, most especially women/women’s bodies. This is exacerbated by our idolization of men with guns (i.e. Indiana Jones, James Bond, action heroes in general), and their subsequent ability to “get the girl,” but also just about anything else they desire. In far too many mass shootings, it is discovered that the perpetrator felt like they were entitled to something they weren’t being given. In many cases, loss of a job has led a disgruntled employee to become violent; in others, it has been a rejection from a women, or an inability to find a girlfriend. Particular incidents that stand out are those of Elliot Rodger, the UCSB shooter who said in a video he made before the shooting, “You girls have never been attracted to me. I don't know why you girls aren't attracted to me but I will punish you all for it. It's an injustice, a crime because I don't know what you don't see in me, I'm the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at all these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman. I will punish all of you for it;” and of Christopher Harper-Mercer, the shooter at an Oregon community college, who vented online about dying “friendless, girlfriendless, and a virgin.” Additionally, mass shooters tend to have a history of violence against women, including Nikolas Cruz who on Wednesday took up arms inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He was allegedly abusive to his ex-girlfriend, including stalking her, harassing her, and threatening to kill her. Cruz had been expelled from the school for fighting with her new boyfriend. Clearly, there is a pattern, one that is underpinned by our society’s toxic ideas of masculinity. “Manliness” is too often associated with power, dominance, and stoicism. We don’t teach men healthy ways to express their emotions, so they’re bottled up until they explode in a violent fashion. We don’t teach men that there is more to power than wielding a destructive weapon or sexual domination, that power can also be found in vulnerability and in respect. This leads to men feeling like they have failed to achieve true manhood, and also to feel that they are lacking the basic entitlements that they are taught to believe come with their gender. This isn’t an attack on me—-this is a call-out of society. Until all of us have these conversations, entitlement and violent outbursts will remain consequences of socialized toxic masculinity.

4. Love and Nonviolence

Another article I stumbled upon recently (here on Reader’s Digest) talks about one teacher’s solution to helping young students long before they become the types of people who could potentially commit mass shootings. Ever since Columbine, she has taken great care to analyze the social dynamics of her classroom to discover who’s being bullied, who’s doing the bullying, who’s popular among their classmates, and who remains invisible. She constantly works to make sure that each and every one of her young students are receiving not only the education they need, but the love, care, and social interaction they need as well. Feeling isolated, rejected, and ultimately lacking a sense of belonging—especially as a child, adolescent, or young adult—can manifest in some people in dangerous ways, but often times the starting point of this process is out of their control. By working to bring people back into the fold and allowing them to establish a supportive community, and carve out a place for themselves within it, those people are given the chance to find a sense of belonging that is so central to personal identity. By cultivating environments that foster love, support, and validation, a chain reaction is created that cauterizes violence at its root. It shot, humanizing people can make all the difference in the world. These central ideas of love and nonviolence actually fall under the broader umbrella of peace studies, in which I took a course in last semester. We did a whole section on love and nonviolence, and one of our assignments was to listen to this podcast, which discusses how loving and nonviolent approaches to situations of terror—including with gunmen and suspected terrorists—can have unfathomably positive results. If we all applied a little bit of love and nonviolence on a personal scale to our everyday lives, we might create a society in which less people feel dehumanized, bullied, or ignored, and less prone to violence in the future.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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