I have spent the last few weeks in the USA, my time there book-ended by the tragic shootings in Aurora, CO (yes, it already has its own Wikipedia page) and Oak Creek, WI. If that wasn’t enough, I was watching Eddy Izzard’s routine Dress to Kill, which opens with him lamenting the lax gun laws that can lead to terrorist activities, and that was in 1999. How is it possible that nothing has changed?
With the attacks of September 11th coming between Izzard’s comments and the same words being echoed by so many around the world today, it would have been reasonable to think that a desire for greater security would have led to it being harder to legally purchase military-grade weapons. It is myopic to believe that the only people who intend to commit acts of terrorism in the US will have to board a plane in order to do so. And if that was not clear — somehow — before this summer, it sure is now. I acknowledge that the gun laws in America are based on a deep need to feel safe and in control of your personal safety. It does not follow, however, that an individual should be able to amass anywhere near the firepower that James Eagan Holmes did. If it were nearly impossible, legally, to own more than a simple handgun, would that not satisfy the legitimate safety needs of individuals while making it inconceivable that we would witness another Aurora?
I think we must go further, though. The NRA does need to finally shoulder some of the blame, however hard it might be to make such a huge and influential corporate body do so. But our culture of violence is to blame as well. I have greatly enjoyed Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but there needs to also be a serious soul-searching of the dominant themes and images we are exposing ourselves to on an increasingly emotional level. This effort, which I would hope will diminish attacks like the one in Aurora, needs to be paired with an educational emphasis on cultivating empathy and understanding of those who are not — on the surface — like we are, whose aim would be diminishing racial hatred. In this respect, I feel like we all failed quite profoundly in the wake of 9/11. The goal of terrorism is to sow discord, hate and fear within a community, and it is only because we let that hate and fear overwhelm us that we are now witnessing such ethnically grounded violence. If we had rallied together, seeing what we share in common as overpowering that which might divide us, I find it hard to believe that we would be witnessing the violence in Wisconsin, even with the current gun laws in place.
Finally, I find it hard to fathom how this is not an issue that is being used to separate candidates in the upcoming presidential election. The reasons behind this lack of breaking from the herd are not news, but can we not wake from our stupor when no one is willing to argue against these entrenched interests, even when there are clearly so many lives at risk (and American lives, at that)? Let’s put the potential for an Israel-Iran war, gay marriage, and abortion on the shelf for a week, and see a serious debate between the two people campaigning to lead the most powerful country on earth about why there should or should not be a serious reforming of the gun control laws and ethos of violence in the country.