The horror of what happened this week in Parkland, Florida—made even more gut wrenching by eye witness interviews and on-site cellphone footage—brought home yet again the senseless tragedy of mass shootings in this country.
Thirty-four times since Sandy Hook, when we vowed as a society that we would “do something” about this ongoing carnage that erupts without warning in some of the most unlikely places—schools, movie theatres, night clubs, concerts, churches—law makers have steadfastly refused to pass legislation to protect Americans from themselves. It is inconceivable to me, especially with polls running decidedly in the opposite direction, that elected officials continue to cower before the gun lobby and fail to pass legislation to deter this epidemic of violence.
We hear the arguments over and over: regulations wouldn’t have stopped such-and-such incident; so-and-so bought his gun legally; the Second Amendment is our right as Americans; now is not the time, while victims are grieving, to have this discussion.
Let your imagination run for a second—what if the shooter shouted Allahu Akbar before committing these heinous crimes? What if his social media profile showed infatuation with the Islamic State? What if he had a long beard and a quick investigation revealed that he attended a mosque? Do you think any of the shopworn excuses would prevail—or even be raised? Do you think that those who have been silent about gun violence since Sandy Hook (including President Trump) would be claiming “now is not the time” instead of immediately launching into a diatribe on the need to report suspicious behavior by Muslim Americans and how we need better defense of our borders?
And yet, statistics show that the proportion of Americans killed by Islamic terrorists on US soil is but a tiny fraction of the 30,000 killed each year by gun violence for many and varied reasons. There may be terrorists in our midst but they dress in fine suits and walk the halls of Congress, holding somber hearings and self-righteous debates about this pattern that impacts only the US among industrialized nations.
Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy wasted no time. He took to the Senate Floor as the shooting was underway and lambasted his colleagues: “This happens nowhere else other than the United States of America. This epidemic of mass slaughter. This scourge of school shooting after school shooting. It only happens here, not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction. We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else.”
An article from The Interpreter by Max Fisher and Josh Keller, published in the New York Times in November, entitled “What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer,” concludes with these words and a quote by British journalist Dan Hodges:
“After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 shooting. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society. That choice, more than any statistic or regulation, is what most sets the United States apart. In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate…Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.”
Now is the time for elected officials to grow a spine. Hope lies in the groundswell of Americans—especially women and people of color—who have demonstrated, organized and are now running for office. These practical measures are a way of actualizing their anger and frustration with political leaders who lack a moral compass or the courage to speak up against a host of issues—domestic violence, security for immigrants, the epidemic of gun violence.
Now is the time to chart a new course for this country—and it has nothing to do with the supposed threat of Islam.