Another school shooting. More teenagers murdered. Another cycle of tragedy, outrage, demand for action, inaction. Another gun control “debate” to be had. Another news cycle dominated. Another community scarred.
Something is different about Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Something is different about the vehement and vociferous student-led political activism that came out of this tragedy. Something is different about the vitriol directed against those who might be so saddened and overwhelmed by such evil that they might fall on their knees to pray, to think, to turn their hearts to a suffering community before defaulting to political activism.
Something is different about how student activist David Hogg says “our parents don’t know how to use a fucking democracy, so we have to,” compared to how Arapahoe High School students stood behind “Warriors always take care of one another” after their school shooting in 2013, and how the brother of a student killed at Columbine in 1997 turned his grief over his sister’s death into a powerful anti-bullying movement still reaching schools today.
Something is different about how division and strife and civil clash have reared their ugly heads with newfound force.
Perhaps all this stems from the notion that enough really is enough. One school shooting was one too many. Maybe we have reached a tipping point beyond which we must take to the streets in righteous anger and demand action from our elected representatives. Many of us are going to the streets out of a place of deep hurt and sorrow. There is absolutely a compelling case that this cycle has repeated itself just too many times.
I am fearful of some of the costs of all of this justifiable anger. When our passions and emotions run so high, we often fail to see those who might disagree with us as humans in our red-clouded gaze. When we say anyone affiliated with the NRA or who is skeptical of the efficacy of additional firearm regulation is a cold-blooded murderer who actively desires the death of children, or when we claim that someone who supports additional firearm regulation is a raving lunatic who wants to take away everyone’s guns and strike the second amendment from the Constitution, we are guilty of a grave crime. When we heap this hatred on each other, we murder each other in our hearts and minds.
When we devolve in this way, we eliminate entirely the possibility for progress. There are, I believe, real grounds for productive policy discussions on why current firearms regulations failed to prevent these atrocities and what other measures could be taken. There are also real opportunities for responsible gun owners to demonstrate how they believe guns are not toys, and how learning to handle one safely can preserve proper respect for a firearm’s destructive end while diminishing irrational fear of the weapon itself.
Misinformation and hyperbole widen an already-growing cultural chasm. Facts, evidence, and reason will be supremely important in a world where a national publication like USA Today can publish an egregiously misleading graphic depicting a “chainsaw bayonet” as a possible modification of an AR-15.
Rationality matters in a world where one of the Parkland activists can claim for purposes of exaggeration that “no one should own a gun that shoots 50 rounds a second” as they did during their visit to the IOP recently. Actually, an AR-15 can shoot 30 rounds maximum only as fast as the user can pull the trigger. That’s still very destructive, obviously. But we will not have a reasonable discussion about high-capacity magazines or semi-automatic weapons if we don’t even really know what they are.
Then again, it is enormously difficult to be clear-headed and rational when children have died. It is next to impossible to separate the personal from the political in such a time as this. There is a case to be made that our politicians are distant and opaque, regardless of where they fall on gun control, and that the anger turned towards them from all sides of the spectrum is justifiable. But surely there is also a cost to directing our rage towards our fellow citizens in vitriolic ways.
Of course, I can make my exhortations to reason from a place somewhat emotionally removed. I haven’t been in a school shooting, nor lost someone to gun violence. But my small Colorado suburb is minutes away from Columbine and Arapahoe High Schools and the Aurora theater where the ill-fated shooting took place in 2012. Some of my best friends and teammates attended those schools. I interned at the courthouse where the theater shooter was being tried in a capital case.
These stories, these people, are not lost on me. The scars and wounds remain long after the news cameras go away. The zeal for activism fades when we realize policy has no healing power. What does not fade away is the need to take care of one another, as Arapahoe students championed in the wake of tragedy and continue to champion.
I hope that political activism will not silence that need.
Grace M. Chao ’19 is an Economics concentrator in Mather House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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