In light of the events in Oregon yesterday, I feel compelled to share something I wrote after my recent trip to America – as usual comments are more than welcome.
As many of you will know, I’m a notoriously bad/unlucky traveller. For once, my unnecessarily long return journey back to London from Atlanta was entirely my fault – a combination of poor planning and spontaneity resulting in an 18 hour bus ride, followed by a 9 hour wait at JFK before my 6 hour flight home. Apart from a brief break to celebrate Ryan Mason’s 82nd minute winner for Spurs against Sunderland (waking up a bus full of very unimpressed travellers in New Jersey), the journey back was a wonderful chance to reflect on just over seven weeks in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Amongst the roadtrips, the sightseeing, the parties and making new friends, one incident which really stood out above all others was a seemingly innocuous drive to Folly Beach just 20 minutes outside of Charleston, South Carolina. At the time we were staying with friends at the College of Charleston, one of the most beautiful and fun places that we visited. Whilst our friend/tour guide/host Grace was at class (for at class, read sailing – apparently in America you get college credit for having fun) she recommended that we head to the beach. News was trickling through that morning of a shooting that happened in Virginia, something that I had to say, apart from being briefly dismayed, I didn’t pay that much attention to; after all, it happens all the time in America. We hopped in the car, and managed to head in completely the opposite direction, something that we had managed to do with unerring consistency throughout the trip. Our new route happened to take us through the centre of town, and coincidentally past the Emanuel AME Church– something that we had planned to do later on in our visit. Always happy to make the most of our geographical ineptitude, we parked up (slightly illegally) and took turns to go and visit the memorials outside the church building, whilst making sure we weren’t on the receiving end of an unwanted visit from a traffic warden.
I have to confess that I spent probably less than 2 minutes briefly reading a couple of messages that had been left there by family and friends of those who had lost their loved ones in a senseless, seemingly random, act of violence, before I couldn’t take it anymore. I was angry. Angry at the idea that as human beings we willfully do this to one another, angry that this was such an avoidable problem, and angry that the frequency of mass gun murders in America had made me desensitised to the gravity of the issue.
I could spend my time writing about the facts and figures surrounding gun murder in America, and trying, as many others already have, to show the need for gun control however I feel as though for the most part it would simply be an exercise of ‘preaching to the converted’. Indeed one of the overwhelmingly apparent trends of conversations I had with people in America about gun control was that those who were ‘pro guns’ were incredibly averse to any suggestion that their ‘second amendment right’ should be tampered with – especially when I suggested that their precious second amendment to the constitution means that the ‘certain unalienable right to life’ of their fellow Americans, enshrined in their declaration of independence, is often extinguished.
Instead I feel as though it would be far more useful to urge people to think about the routine nature of the debate surrounding gun control. In his address in the aftermath of the shooting yesterday in Oregon, before going on to make some of the most basic, yet salient, arguments for gun control laws, Obama hit the nail on the head – “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, the conversation in the aftermath of it … We have become numb to this.” And that’s one of the biggest problems. Mass shootings are so routine that as human beings we are numb to the pain that we should feel when we hear about ‘yet another’ shooting.
So in response to yesterday’s events, maybe it’s time to finally look at the issue from the perspective of a human being. In Oregon, after the 994th mass shooting in the United States since November 2012, 10 families were torn apart. This morning, those families will be waking up from what must seem like a nightmare, only to have to realise that it wasn’t just a dream. Life will never be the same for them. Surely something must be done to stop this nightmare being replicated in the lives of others?
Maybe the pain caused to the families of those victims in the 994 mass shootings isn’t enough to motivate you to think about the need for change. It isn’t just mass shootings that cause gun deaths. “Firearms are the cause of death for more than 33,000 people in America every year, according to the CDC; a number that includes both accidental discharge, murder and suicides, which are on the increase, especially in states with lax gun-control laws, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.” (Guardian 2015) As a human being, surely we can only feel that any death as the result of a firearm is one too many. Something has to change.
Having spent seven great weeks in one the most fascinating and wonderful countries in the world, this is the unpleasant aftertaste that almost makes me feel guilty for enjoying it as much as I did. Over the course of my time there, it seemed increasingly evident to me that whatever you believe about gun control, you cannot believe that the current situation is acceptable, but yet it is routine. In the words of former Attorney General Eric Holder “Is the answer to our gun violence epidemic to do nothing? Again? Come on America!”
From someone who longs to love America, and can’t wait to return, I completely echo his sentiments.
Come on America. You’re better than this.