Dec. 14 was shaping up to be just another Friday when reports of a mass shooting suddenly took over the media. I was concerned and saddened, and hoped that it was somehow a false alarm. But when the death toll in Newtown, Conn. became known — first 18 children, then 20 children and seven adults — my concern turned to horror and my sadness to grief. I asked myself the questions that anyone with a conscience would have asked: Why would anyone murder these children? Could this have been prevented somehow? How are the families of the victims and those who survived ever going to recover from such a terrible event?
The answer to the first question is clearly mental illness, and there are many potential answers to the second, but I have no answers for that last one. I may not know the victims personally, but my most heartfelt condolences go out to the their families and community — though I fear that these condolences are worth very little. I cannot claim to understand what it’s like to be the parent who sent their child to school in the morning and has now laid them in the ground. I cannot imagine what one unidentified girl who evaded Adam Lanza’s bullets by pretending to be dead must be going through right now. And I cannot fathom the reaction of that girl’s mother when, though knowing that her own daughter was safe, had to hear her say, “Mommy, I’m OK, but all my friends are dead.”
However, I can fathom the fact that I live in a country that’s been plagued by 62 mass murders in the past 30 years, the deadliest among those murders occurring at a college campus or school. As of 2011, the homicide rate in the United States was 6.9 times higher than in other high-income countries. Moreover, over the last few years, states have been cutting the budgets for their mental health programs at alarming rates, leaving some of the most vulnerable citizens without the aid they desperately need. Amidst all of this, Congress, the nation’s federal legislative body in the most powerful position to make real changes, has done shamefully little. In the last 30 years a total of four pieces of gun control legislation have passed through Congress, while the political power of the National Rifle Association has fought every step.
All of this speaks to the now-incontrovertible fact that this country has a hideously under-addressed gun violence problem that consistently manifests itself as mass murder. This is true today, but this was also true on Dec. 14, 2012. On July 20, 2012. On Feb. 14, 2008. On April 16, 2007. Apparently, the mass slaughter of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers is what it takes to catch the attention of the American people.
There have been many letters and many prayers offered to console the citizens of Newtown. None of them, however powerful, will ever be able to change what happened that day. But these words carry the potential for meaningful action aimed at reducing gun violence in the United States. Efforts like the commission President Barack Obama formed and California Sen. Diane Feinstein’s promised bill pertaining to an assault weapons ban are extremely promising signs of progress. The latter should contain language that closes the gun show loophole, which allows virtually anyone to buy a gun without going through a background check. In addition, this bill places a ban on clips with a capacity of more than 10 bullets, the likes of which Lanza used in his attack. The commission, meanwhile, should consider the state of America’s mental health care system and the stigma surrounding mental illness while crafting its proposal.
Mass murder has visited this country for the 62nd time in 30 years, but this time our reaction as a nation needs to go beyond mere words. Too many words have been said in the past with too little corresponding action, and this nation should be tired of hearing stories like that of the unidentified little girl. The time is ripe for addressing mass murder as a matter of policy instead of once again dismissing it as an inexplicable act that no one can foresee or prevent.
Eric Ferguson is an LSA sophomore.