Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, my class on American government begins with a discussion of current events. On Friday, Nov. 7, we discussed which party won the midterms. But on Wednesday night before class, a shooter had opened fire in a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif., killing 12 people. One of the victims was a survivor of the Las Vegas shooting. No one, including my professor, mentioned this shooting. Just as I was about to bring it up, we transitioned away from discussing current events and began talking about the structure of the American presidency.
My experience in class was indicative of the American condition. Another shooting, another day. Back to talking about the president. We have become so desensitized to the level of violence that occurs in our country that it does not even merit a mention in conversations about current events. Our collective failure to act on, let alone discuss, the consequences of American gun culture and the Second Amendment has cost the lives of thousands of Americans.
We are abdicating our responsibility to our fellow citizens when we accept that 91 people die every day from guns in this country. Relative to other countries, we do not have a disproportionately high number of mentally ill people. We do not have a disproportionately high number of extremists. What separates us from every other developed nation in the world is the sheer number of guns that exist in this country and the ease with which they can be acquired.
Surviving one shooting in this country only to be killed in another should not be the price of freedom. As a country, we are morally responsible for these deaths. There is blood on all of our hands for failing to make clear to our elected officials that we will not tolerate this level of violence. Generation after generation of Americans has looked the other way because admitting the truth about guns in America is politically inconvenient. After every shooting, I see a plethora of Facebook posts saying, “Enough is enough!”, “The buck stops here!”, “How can we let this happen?”, because taking a stand on Facebook is politically convenient. But a week and a half later, we let it happen again.
If we really believe this level of violence to be unacceptable, we must do more than hold vigils, say prayers and call our representatives in Congress. We must be willing to take politically inconvenient stances and defend them publicly. It is clear to me that no one in power will take any legitimate, concrete steps to reduce gun violence in America. It is up to us, the “youth,” to solve this problem. After all, we are the ones who have had our entire upbringing defined by mass shootings, of which we are frequently the targets. Our political calculation is different. We are weighing the inconvenience of taking a controversial stance with the inconvenience of getting shot, and for us, getting shot is a more pressing concern.
We are the next generation of civic leaders, and we have to make preventing these deaths a priority. Wherever we live in the country, whatever the prevailing sentiment, we cannot continue to push gun violence to the sidelines out of fear that any stance on guns is an unpopular one. The onus is on us to convince our communities that taking a bold stance on gun violence prevention is necessary to prevent deaths like this from occurring right in our own backyard. And we need to turn the tables, to make it politically inconvenient for anyone to oppose gun violence prevention. We can do this by voting out politicians who fail to support policies that are proven to save lives and by running for office ourselves. Until that happens, nothing will change.
Jessie Gorovitz ’20 is a political science major from Berkeley, Calif. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.