David Harris: A column about nothing

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 5:54pm

This isn’t a column talking about how to solve gun violence.

Nobody else seems to care about talking about fixing gun violence, so neither will this column. Elected senators and presidential candidates didn’t have much to say about it after Charleston. The media even tired of covering gun control after a vote for slightly more stringent gun control methods failed in April 2013. And as support for any sort of gun-control measures similarly mirrors media coverage trends, it has been nothing but inaction on any front to help curb a problem that’s uniquely American in scale.

This isn’t a column talking about the at least 885 mass shootings, incidents in which four or more people were shot, that have occurred since Sandy Hook in December 2012. Sometime in between writing, editing and publishing this column, that number will grow, as will the number of days that the government sits idle as if everything is fine. Far too often, a lead story on the news is how someone else was shot, including recently in Virginia where the shooting was on the news itself.

This isn’t a column about the victims of such violence, because the victims do not have a voice.

Untold thousands pass away too soon, and thousands more will follow them each year with no attempt to change policy that could potentially save even a fraction of gun violence victims. Even the living victims have their voice shut out. Even after former Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords survived a mass shooting at a congressional event and campaigned for better gun policies in our nation, she could not overcome the roadblocks. When she has to urge voters to vote out the current leadership in office because that’s the only way to possibly make a change, the culture is broken.

This isn’t a column about the shooters, their motives or their personalities.

Perhaps they do it for the fame, fame they should never be given. Undoubtedly mental health treatment is a huge issue in this country, another problem which needs solutions, especially when a large percentage of deaths from firearms are suicides. But placing too much blame on these problems continually sidesteps the issue that we keep witnessing shootings over and over, and shift blame to the individual instead of recognizing that we have a serious problem with firearms that can’t be avoided.

This isn’t a column about numbers and data, which are perhaps the most sensible way of devising solutions to issues, because numbers and data don’t exist by accident. 

Legislation prevented the Centers for Disease Control from conducting research on gun violence and gun control policy, leaving lasting effects that have crippled any effort to make data-driven decisions. There are plenty of statistics that agree that Americans own a lot of guns and shoot a lot of people, a lot more than any of our international peers. But when it comes to statistics on the impact of policy and procedures working towards curbing the astronomical numbers of incidents, there aren’t any.

This isn’t a column about politics, because this issue is already so political.

The National Rifle Association is infamous for its involvement  — about $25 million of it in one election cycle — in the cutting of gun violence research funding from the CDC and its adages of “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Despite overwhelming support for background checks for those purchasing weapons, legislation for them has been unable to pass, and it’s no doubt that fear of retribution from candidates that receive donations from the NRA has some effect. Perhaps that money could go to places other than political campaigns, and go toward funding actual solutions like better mental health or gun safety clinics.

And no, this column isn’t about taking away guns, gun control, gun registration or anything of the sort. Ownership of guns is, and always will be, protected by the Constitution. But our country wasn’t founded on just the Bill of Rights and the rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It was also founded on the inherent and inalienable right that is the preservation of life. There has to be a better way to uphold all of these.

This column is about nothing, because nothing accurately describes what we have done in response to the lives claimed by gun violence every day.

It doesn’t take a senile Shakespearean king to tell us nothing will come of nothing, but instead of doing something — anything — we continue to move nowhere in solving the issue. Doing nothing will not stop the mass shooting that might occur tomorrow or the next day somewhere in the United States, but something, anything, might save a life. And a life is certainly about more than nothing.

David Harris can be reached at daharr@umich.edu.