A trip to Columbine High School was what allowed me to realize that in the United States, we deeply value autonomy, rather than prioritize safety. Visiting the place where the national discourse was broken on gun violence in America wasn’t just heartbreaking, but infuriating. From that moment on, I began to see that this wasn’t just a tragedy, it was a tragedy slowly evolving into an epidemic.
Before President Obama announced his executive order on Jan. 5 augmenting background checks to include all Internet and gun show sales and to fund mental health treatment, the issue of gun violence in America was always mounted on that book shelf that you would need a chair to reach. That was the problem: people weren’t ready to admit that we have a problem.
It seems as if this issue should be a no-brainer; safety and any implication of it is usually reason enough for most. It is a priority for the land of the free and the home of the brave to feel secure in our own space, a liberty that shouldn’t just be implied. We need to turn our heads away from the unreliable, ever-decreasing unemployment rate and halt arguing about which health care plan is the most rational. Instead, we must make our right to live without fear a top priority.
Although I say that this is a national epidemic, we are students in the third and eightieth most dangerous city in New York State and the nation, respectively. From the incident this past August in downtown Rochester, to the weapon that was confiscated during the recent kidnapping, to the threatened feelings expressed by a member of DLH at the Town Hall Meeting on Race, this issue is more than just prevalent for all of us here on this campus. It is is affecting the community we have grown to love.
The struggle that we face trying to enact swift and meaningful change resides in the focal point of the issue. The word “control” simultaneously terrifies and empowers us Americans. What exactly do I mean by this? Well, the umbrella term to describe this conflict has always been “gun control.” By giving the issue this name, we engage in the conservative belief that the federal government genuinely wants to take away all of their guns. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has stated numerous times that homicide rates have decreased in recent years, with the purchase of firearms leading to the exact opposite outcome. With this proven fact in mind, I believe it is appropriate that we all shift the discussion from trying to control guns to actually trying to lessen their harm.
Many say that firearms are necessary for society, and are even a defining characteristic of American culture. We might say that there is absolutely no way we can alter a culture, or even a defining characteristic, for that matter. But automobiles, which are an important part of our lifestyle that we cannot dare be without, were dangerous, and our nation found a way to ensure security rather than repress assets. Before cars were mandated to have seatbelts, airbags, and even windows, a staggering amount of lives were lost in accidents. Instead of snatching cars from us, they were instead made safer and, in turn, fewer lives have been lost.
To close, gun violence in America has been and will always be an issue about having the fundamental right to feel safe. Allowing these tools to be as unsafe as they are has exposed our nation as paying little to no attention to issues of race relations and mental health. Instead of posting an article about the next incident that is going to happen, and why that is oh-so-terrible (which it is), why don’t we actually as a campus try to get educated, stand up, and demand safety? Let’s engage not only on a federal level, but on a local one as well. Let’s not aim for control, but rather, for security.