Just this week, a horrific mass shooting at Michigan State University shocked the nation and rocked our campus, as many have friends and relatives attending the nearby university. Its close proximity and the hours-long “shelter-in-place” order had many feeling anxious, confused and angry. But most significantly, the feeling of loss was overwhelming: the lives of Brian Fraser, Alexandria Verner and Arielle Anderson were taken in the shooting and will forever be memorialized by the community of East Lansing and our own. Such events also remind us of the constant threat of gun violence, and should be considered yet another instance of why we must overcome the mental, ideological and political barriers preventing this nation from working towards a solution.
In 2022, there were 648 mass shootings. Just a month and a half into 2023, there have been 66 mass shootings. This constitutes an unfathomable rate of more than one and a half mass shootings per day on average. At this rate, the U.S. is on pace for a catastrophic 577 mass shootings by the end of the year. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an event in which a shooter kills or injures a minimum of four people, not including any shooter who may have also been killed or injured in the event. Even more worrying than this data, however, is the fact that it seems we, both the general public and its lawmakers, are growing numb to the ever-rising tide of gun violence deaths in the United States.
Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Texas First Baptist Church, Robb Elementary in Uvalde and, most recently, Monterey Park. These are names ingrained in the American consciousness for their brutality and tragedy, and are among the 25 mass shootings since 1982 with 10 or more fatalities. But of all of these events, who –– besides those directly affected by the tragedy –– can name a single victim? As we are constantly confronted with news of yet more shootings, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the raw numbers from the humanity of the victims.
It wasn’t until Nov. 30, 2021 that the horror of such an event became tangible to me, something beyond simply national news. I was in school 40 minutes away from Oxford High School on the day that a student murdered four of his fellow students and injured seven others. The fact that something had occurred so close to my home sent the entire school, including myself, into a state of shock. For those less close — both physically and emotionally — to the event, it was yet another tragic mass shooting, but to the high school students just a county away, it felt infinitely more visceral and horrifying. Yet, many months later, the event faded into memory, just like all of the rest.
Indeed, how could it not, in a nation which has seen hundreds of mass shootings on a yearly basis since 2010? With gun violence inflicting so much trauma and pain on the public on practically a weekly basis, it has been difficult to avoid the risk of desensitization coupled with such repeated events. In a 24-hour news cycle that thrives on constantly churning out stories and generating clicks, it is difficult to consume so much content without blurring out individual events and instead subscribing to less personal overarching narratives or statistics. We cannot allow such a vicious cycle to continue. We must begin to remind ourselves, and Congress, that this level of tragedy cannot be the norm. We must oppose a reality in which we dehumanize victims of tragedy as simply a statistic, and instead seek to remember the victims as human beings.
Last year, Congress passed its first significant gun reform law after 30 years of continuous gun violence. Having received bipartisan support, the bill seeks to impose tougher restrictions on buyers younger than 21, allocate $15 billion in funding for mental health programs and school security upgrades, funding to implement red flag laws and denying gun ownership to those convicted of violent acts such as domestic violence. Even still, two-thirds of the Republican party opposed the bill, with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas stating it wouldn’t curb gun violence, but instead disarm law-abiding citizens. Across the aisle, Democrats believed much more needed to be done, and they were right. Yet another mass shooting made headlines on July 4, 2022, just a week and a half after the decades-overdue bill was passed into law.
The United States has remained a worldwide anomaly regarding gun culture, with firearm ownership entrenched in our Bill of Rights and embedded in American society. For many conservatives, the right to own a firearm is as inalienable as your right to free speech, and in the framework of the Constitution, it is. Any proposed restrictions, even for the sake of protecting the general public from those who intend to misuse their right to bear arms, is deemed a direct attack on personal liberties by conservatives. Therefore, for many Americans, there is no way to address the causes of mass shootings and simultaneously retain the same rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
In a nation with more guns than people, it is unsurprising that the United States also has the unenviable title of most mass shootings in the world. When considering the advent of horrific mass shootings in other countries, the immediacy and ruthlessness of legislative action immediately following such events is something sorely lacking in our legislative bodies. On March 15, 2019, a radical gunman opened fire on worshippers at prayer in two separate mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50 people and injuring dozens more. Three days later, the nation’s Cabinet developed a massive overhaul of their existing gun laws, which had been unchanged for more than two decades — just like the laws of the United States at the time. The legislation included a complete ban on “military-style” weapons and was met with nationwide support, sentiments echoed even by gun retailers.
In my once native Germany, there have been 27 mass shootings over the past 110 years. This is due to far stricter gun laws than the United States. These laws aren’t perfect, and mass shootings have happened — the worst of which at a high school in 2002 in the city of Erfurt, resulting in the death of 17 people and the suicide of the 19-year-old shooter. Even with strict gun laws already in place, the local and federal government sought reform to hopefully prevent such an event from happening again. The age at which one may legally obtain large-caliber firearms for sport shooting, such as a shotgun, was raised to 21. In addition, all prospective gun owners below the age of 25 would be subject to a psychological evaluation. Police reform was also enacted, so that they may more effectively respond to such events in the future.
Following just one catastrophic mass shooting, the governments of Germany and New Zealand acted swiftly and decisively to curb the possibility of such an event happening again, by reviewing and greatly strengthening their gun control legislation. The United States is far beyond the point of one catastrophic shooting. With dozens of such shootings in its history, it is clear that lawmakers and the public are becoming dangerously apathetic to the tragedy of such events, and are unwilling to exercise their power as a lawmaking body to readily craft decisive solutions which may curb the swelling tide of gun violence in our country. The fact that thousands of people died over a 20 year period without Congress passing any significant gun reform legislation is absolutely shameful. It represents a phenomenon of inaction and apathy towards gun violence which rightfully has no representation in any other legislature in the world, and should cease to have a place in the United States.
What these stories of New Zealand and Germany tell us is that reform is not only possible, but that shootings should never be considered part of our reality. Simply put, there is no other country on earth which has suffered so greatly from gun violence while doing so little to combat its prevalence than the United States. As a society, we must look inward and evaluate the fact that initial shock followed by inaction can only lead to acceptance and apathy. Reform can only begin when we refuse to accept our reality of mass shootings. Without such a reckoning, the victims of ceaseless gun violence are forgotten — replaced by a statistic, and their deaths become meaningless. In a nation fraught with epidemics, we cannot allow gun violence to persist as yet another systemic illness which ails the public.
Maximilian Schenke is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.