Photo: Alex McKenzie
A shooter walks into a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and kills 50 worshipers. The nation mourns and the entire world sympathizes alongside them. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, even visits the site of the shooting. However, during her speech of condolences, she makes a remarkable promise.
“Our gun laws will change,” she says. Without speaking to her colleagues in office, she utters these five words in complete confidence. Sure enough, six days later, something happens. The Prime Minister’s words ring true as the nation places a ban on all automatic and semi-automatic weapons. New Zealand also institutes a nationwide gun buyback program, estimated to cost the nation between $100 and $200 million dollars.
So, the gun debate is back, and we know how this story goes at this point. We send our thoughts and prayers. One side tries to begin the discussion on gun control. The other side says it is much too soon. The discussion happens anyway. One side says the public has access to weapons that are too powerful. The other side says the problem is mental health.
Either way, no policy is brought forward. We go back to life as normal until the next shooting the next week. Then the cycle starts up all over again. We have gotten into this weird period of stasis when it comes to gun control. We have gotten comfortable with this. So, here we are again, having the debate on whether we should allow citizens to have military-grade weapons or not.
The craziest part is that most of the country agrees with some form of gun restrictions. According to Reuters, 69 percent of Americans surveyed want “moderate to strong restrictions” placed on firearms. 55 percent of Americans want policies to make it more difficult to own guns.
If so many Americans feel this way, why is it difficult to pass gun control legislation? There are many reasons why gun control is such a pressing and complex issue to get in the United States. Corporate lobbying, states’ rights and a culture of political polarization has created an atmosphere where the topic of gun rights is forbidden. The rule has been etched in stone on Mt. Sinai, and any attempt to change it will change the essence of this country.
But, one reason why I believe we cannot have gun control in America is that we have become desensitized to these events. These have become the new normal in the U.S. We get caught up in offering “thoughts and prayers,” but we never answer our own prayers. We hope and pray that tragedies like this will not happen anymore, instead of taking action and making sure they do not happen again.
Factors like mental health, drug and alcohol abuse and emotional trauma may play a larger part in the prevalence of mass shootings. But, even on this front, our government has done absolutely nothing to address these matters. They have allowed pharmaceutical companies to raise prices on drugs crucial to mental wellness. They have ignored the opioid crisis. Instead, they recommend arming teachers, choosing to endanger the lives of students with live firearms in classrooms.
New Zealand is not the first country to enact strict gun restrictions right after a mass shooting either. Australia did the same thing after a mass shooting back in 1996, where 35 people died. John Howard, the prime minister at the time, banned the use of all semi-automatic weapons and also instituted a buyback program. They had not had a fatal mass shooting until 2018, more than two decades later.
We need to really be aware of what we see as normal. The U.S. has the most gun deaths of all the industrialized countries by a wide margin. We average more than one mass shooting per day, and it is not just because we have loosely interpreted the second amendment. It is because we see these tragedies as normal within our society and our legislators refuse to change it.
Even though it may not directly cause any harm to the country, the constant exposure to disaster desensitizes us to the devastation we have come to see week after week. When we watch these events happen over and over, we begin to feel numb to them. Then, when another Newtown, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Columbine, Orlando, Aurora or Virginia Tech happens, we begin to think that it is just another part of life.