This past Wednesday, I walked into a dining hall to be met with the CNN Headline "POLICE ATTEMPTING TO IDENTIFY SHOOTER" blaring from every television.
I hadn't even heard about there being a shooting yet, but our media had already moved on from the initial shock, and weren't even referring to the specifics of the incident. I looked down at my phone, and sure enough, I had several notifications informing me that there had been a school shooting in a Florida high school. 17 people had been killed.
The worst part is, this is becoming the new normal.
Another week, another shooting.
These national tragedy news stories - Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Orlando, Charleston, Vegas, etc. - don't even crack the surface of the gun violence that occurs in the US every single day. The statistics have been enumerated over and over again, but here are a few striking ones:
When it comes to homicides by firearms, America has over four times as many per million people (29.7) as the next most deadly country, Switzerland (7.7 per million people killed by firearms). (Vox)
Between 1968 and 2011, more people were killed in shooting incidents on American soil than in any war fought by this country since its inception (BBC). And I don't think anyone is under the impression that we have a peaceful history.
On average, 96 Americans are killed with guns in a single day. (CDC)
96. Let that sink in for a second.
Think about all the suicides, the gang-related shootings, the kids who accidentally set off the family gun, the police shootings, the domestic violence-related murders that we never even hear about. 96 people per day is an overwhelming number. These deaths happen so often that it's impossible to cover them all in national news.
This is a problem of epidemic proportions, and it's because guns are embedded into American culture so deeply, that the idea of even minorly strengthening gun control laws sends lawmakers and citizens alike into a frenzy.
The basis of this gun culture is written into our Constitution, in the Second Amendment:
"A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
Throughout American History, this Amendment has been contested and upheld numerous times. One of the first of which, in 1822, overturned a fine that had been placed on a man for carrying a sword encased in a cane, thus solidifying the idea that people have an "individual right" to bear arms. Later in the 19th century, it was decided that former slaves would have the right to own a gun, in order to become fully realized American citizens.
In the 20th century, starting in the 30s, some restrictions were put on gun ownership. One had to have a license to sell or purchase guns, and certain people, including felons, were restricted from owning guns. Later on, restrictions were placed on the ownership of semiautomatic weapons.
Each restriction placed was seen as necessary for the time it was placed; the 30's restrictions were a reaction to increased gang violence, updated restrictions in the 60's were a reaction to Kennedy's assassination, the Assault weapons ban in the 90's was a reaction to the attempted assassination of Reagan, as well as dangerous new weaponry technology that legislators agreed should be kept out of the hands of the masses.
Today, however, the idea that someone shouldn't be able to purchase a military-grade weapon at a gun show without any kind of license is offensive to a major part of the country. And people with this viewpoint are largely in currently in control of our government.
The Trump administration's official view on gun rights is that "the Second Amendment is America’s first freedom....because the Right to Keep and Bear Arms protects all our other rights."
The administration's statement considers the Second Amendment to be nearly a prophetic text. Like many Americans, our government believes that the right to own a gun is so fundamental to our democracy that we should ignore the kind of people who take advantage of this right.
It is impossible to talk about the issue of gun violence in America without seeing it as tied to extremism, specifically white supremacy.
The perpetrator of the attack, Nikolas Cruz, is suspected of having ties with a white nationalist group that wants to turn Florida into a white ethno-state. Though there has been conflicting information, it is clear that Cruz posted several inflammatory comments online aimed at minorities, displaying similar racist proclivities to the Columbine and Orlando shooters, demonstrating a disturbing pattern. These are the kind of people that are able to easily acquire weapons, and aren't afraid to use them.
The group that claimed Cruz as a member, Republic of Florida, believes that "civil war is a very real possibility in the next two years." A spokesman from the organization described this possibility as “an open, violent clash involving guns and people stabbing and killing each other."
Even if Cruz is not a member of this group, it is undeniable that groups like this have a rapidly increasing influence on American political life. Apart from incidents like Charlottesville that highlight this, the number of hate groups in America is up 17% since 2014.
And many of these groups seek to take advantage of the Second Amendment right that politicians on both sides often ignore: the right to "a well regulated militia."
To use the Republic of Florida as an example, members of this hate group must pledge that they are "willing to wage battle" in order to defend the group's ideals, according to their website.
Groups like this want to bring America back to the time when the Second Amendment was drafted; back when militias were used to liberate white Americans from the British, while keeping slaves in chains. The modern day militia movement isn't that far off from the Founding Fathers in the sense that they uphold the view that their freedoms are ultimately what matter.
The liberation of some, while others suffer.
This is what America is based off of, as uncomfortable as it is to confront. When seen in this light, is it all that surprising that lawmakers choose the "freedom" to arm oneself over those 96 lives lost everyday?
We are a fundamentally violent country, in ways that extend far beyond the militia movement. And we're becoming more violent. An article in The New Yorker explains the psychology behind why school shootings and similar incidents seem to be becoming more and more frequent: perpetrators of these shootings see themselves as a part of a larger movement. The article likens school shootings to a slow motion riot, in that members of this "movement" are able to abandon their morals with more ease as others join in. In short, copycat crimes happen because with each crime, the group of criminals becomes larger, and it is easier to become part of this group.
This "group," which many members see as spiritually led by Eric Harris of the Colombine shooting, can in some ways be likened to a militia. It is a movement of disenfranchised white men who commit violent acts because they have sworn allegiance to something larger than themselves.
In reality, gun rights have never been about individuals, as much as politicians and the NRA make out of the "individual right" to own a gun.
Since the inception of our country, guns have always been used and abused by groups, by movements. You can't support the Second Amendment without acknowledging the nature of these groups.
Tomorrow, we could all wake up in the morning to another national tragedy that's already half a news cycle old, and our government still wouldn't do anything about it. By the time this article is published, hundreds of more people will have died preventable deaths because of the idolization of the Second Amendment.
We can't let this continue.
This is a piece of legislation that belongs in the past with the men that wrote it.