I want you to try to do something for a moment. Choose a loved one: a parent, a sibling, a friend or an extended family member. Now imagine getting a phone call. It’s completely out of the blue, a family member calls you crying, barely able to form words. They haven’t even said anything, but you already know what happened. They eventually pull together enough strength and tell you that a loved one has suddenly been killed.
Put yourself in the funeral home a few days later at the viewing. You see your friends and family slowly shuffle in and out, walking by the casket, saying a short prayer and giving condolences to you and others close to him or her.
Place yourself inside that church, listening to the eulogy, being moved to tears as it hits you that you will never see this person ever again.
Imagine that it’s now a year later, and he or she is still gone. Time has passed, but your feelings haven’t. You still miss him or her and think about it every day. And he or she is never, ever coming back.
Imagine the most terrible feeling you can think of, and then multiply that by a hundred.
This happens every day to at least 24 people in America because of gun violence. There are up to 9,000 gun related homicides in the U.S. every year, and almost all of those will result in a phone call, a funeral and dozens of completely altered lives.
I came to a realization earlier this summer. About a week before the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Col., I was having a conversation with a coworker about gun violence in Detroit. Elise, a Detroit resident with two children, was concerned with the rash of shootings that had been taking place at gas stations and Coney Island restaurants in the city late at night (she hoped to get security guards at these locations to deter crime). After hearing about Aurora, I was upset to see how a suburban shooting had finally reignited debates about security and guns, while the ongoing urban violence, like Elise talked about, was overlooked. It seemed like just another instance of race and class determining an issue’s importance.
What troubled me more, however, was what this debate was actually about. Rather than a conversation about how to tackle something that is clearly a huge problem — whether we’re talking about rare mass shooters or daily homicides — the debate was whether or not we should do anything. That’s right, our leaders were arguing whether or not any action at all should be taken to alleviate gun violence. Considering the lack of any legislation or executive action, it seems that once again we’re not addressing gun deaths head on.
Gun violence is not inevitable. People being shot and killed are not unstoppable occurrences like diseases, viruses or natural disasters. They can be prevented. We know this because other developed nations don’t have this problem to the extent of the U.S. Japan, Great Britain, Canada, Germany — none of them have problems with gun violence like we do. Clearly, something can be done about it. Should we enforce stricter gun control, as many of these countries do, or should we come up with a completely new solution based on gun rights and security? This is a necessary discussion that has the potential to limit people like James Holmes’ all-too-easy access to dangerous weapons.
The point is that we have the political power to have a broader conversation on these senseless murders. It doesn’t matter if it’s a group of people being fired at in a Colorado movie theater or an individual being shot during a carjacking in Detroit — no son, daughter, mother, father or friend ever wants to get that call. After a mass shooting, people so often say, “We can never let this happen again.” But within a year, another headline tragically appears. I’m not asking for martial law on guns or demanding we hire security guards at every busy public place in America. I’m just asking that we please accept gun violence as an epidemic. I beg of our citizens and leaders: please, let’s stop ignoring the preventable tragedies occurring daily and sit down for a real conversation about gun violence in America.
James Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.