When I sat down to write this blog, I considered writing about several different issues that are making waves in American politics. I thought about criticizing the President for the disastrous rollout of the Affordable Care Act, or discussing the newest rising star within the Democratic Party, Senator Cory Booker. I pondered writing about how the gubernatorial election in Virginia is becoming a fascinating microcosm of national politics, and the how result will have implications for the entire nation. But none of these topics seemed immediately relevant to me. They’re interesting pieces for the 24 hour news cycle, of course, but not topics I wanted to address at length. Instead, I’m going to address a phenomenon that the American people are all too familiar with: gun violence.
While I do think important legislative steps must be taken to end the epidemic of gun violence in this country, my primary motive is not to address gun control. While it seems like common sense that no civilian should have access to any sort of assault rifle, the debate over gun control has been going on for years and probably won’t be resolved anytime soon.
However, the national media coverage of the shooting at Los Angeles International Airport this past week reinforced my conviction that societal influences have a massive impact on the prevalence of gun violence. While easy access to lethal weapons allows for mass shootings to occur, it doesn’t cause them. In order to effectively deal with gun violence in the United States, the American people must address the root of the problem: the cultural stigma that glorifies violence and treats human life as a commodity.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that, by and large, the American people are obsessed with violence. The masses flock to movies that make a spectacle of gratuitous violence and destruction. Almost two months ago, when the video game Grand Theft Auto V was released, it grossed $800 million in one day. And although the entertainment industry doesn’t cause most adults to develop violent tendencies, it does influence children and desensitize the public to the horrible realities of violent death. Today more than ever, it is vitally important that parents are responsible and proactive about monitoring what sort of influences their children are exposed to. Additionally, parents, teachers and civic leaders must work to create communities that have resources in place to ensure the mental and emotional health of all citizens.
Similarly, an important paradigm shift must occur with regard to the perception of guns, especially among young people. According to the New York Times, approximately 34 percent of American households owned one or more guns in 2012. Whether people like it or not, guns are omnipresent in society. Anyone who owns a gun has an obligation to teach their children about the enormous power and responsibility that comes with owning guns, and instill a sense of respect for the destruction that guns can cause if mishandled.
In the novel “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Atticus Finch, one of the most beloved fictional characters in American literature, speaks about courage: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” While the process of reorienting cultural paradigms and limiting negative influences in order to stop gun violence will not be clear cut or easy, the American people must have the courage to try. If not, I fear that the price of inaction will be paid in innocent human lives.