In response to the mass shooting that took place in my home state last week, President Obama said “we are collectively answerable” to the families of the victims of mass gun violence. I appreciate the political factors behind that statement, but I disagree strongly. Responsibility for gun violence does not rest on the shoulders of the policymakers and advocates who have tirelessly worked to enact gun control laws, to no avail. Nor does responsibility rest on the shoulders of the majority of Americans who support background checks for prospective gun purchasers and bans on assault weapons.
The president also said (this time correctly) that “gun violence is a political choice.” It is a choice made, not by all of us collectively, but by those among us who refuse to lend their support to smart gun control policies. And it is a choice which resulted directly in the deaths of ten Oregonians in Roseburg last week, many of them teenagers, and hundreds of thousands of other people across the county over the last decade.
The president’s comments should spur us to think about the conversation we routinely have after every incident of mass gun violence – why has it continually failed to produce meaningful reforms?
The answer is simply that it’s the wrong conversation. We respond too readily with lines like “we can have common sense gun reforms that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals.” These responses, while ostensibly true, disperse the culpability for gun violence to such a degree that nobody feels compelled to change their behavior or their beliefs. This mode of arguing has been useless for achieving lasting and effective changes to our gun policies: 406,496 Americans were killed by a gun between 2001 and 2013, and mass shootings are happening more frequently than at any time in the past three decades.
It is time for a new line of thinking (and arguing) that focuses on the true impetus behind gun violence in America, and which shines a bright light on the actors responsible for bringing that impetus about. The fact of the matter is that there is only one factor contributing to the frequency of mass shootings. It isn’t mental illness. It isn’t evil. It isn’t poverty or drugs or religious extremism. Those things exist everywhere. The one variable that exists here at a level unparalleled in any other country, and which by every quantifiable metric is causally connected to our outlandish death-by-gun rate, is wholesale opposition to gun control.
From this point forward, our response to mass shootings should be one which centers around anti-gun control advocacy as a causal contributor to gun violence, and which casts those who engage in it as active participants in each and every mass shooting that takes place. I’ll go first:
If you continue to pay membership dues to the NRA, you had a hand in the deaths of ten Oregonians last week.
If you helped to elect a Tea Party candidate to Congress, you had a hand in the deaths of ten Oregonians last week.
If you refuse to support assault weapons bans and universal background checks even when those policies would have no discernible impact on your life, you had a hand in the deaths of ten Oregonians last week.
Either you support strong gun control, or you’re comfortable with your role in promoting domestic terrorism and murder. There is no gray area.
I would like to submit for the record that gun ownership (even gun fanaticism) and support for strong gun control are not mutually exclusive ideas, and in pointing my finger at gun advocates I don’t mean to suggest that gun ownership on its own confers complicity in gun violence. Rather, I intend to suggest that specific actions like supporting the NRA and Tea Party politicians, and opposing gun laws, should be taken for what they are: tacit endorsements of the status quo, and meaningful contributions to each and every instance of gun violence in the U.S.
As the president said, this is a political choice. So let’s start treating it like one, and maybe anti-gun control advocates will finally start feeling some pressure to account for the consequences of their actions. It may be a long shot, but I’d really like not to have to do this all over again in a few months.