The tragedy of Aurora: a chance to strengthen American gun control

The tragedy of Aurora, Colorado, has left in its wake twelve killed, dozens more wounded and numberless counts of heartbreak and grief, but perhaps the shooting may have some good in it, if and only if it forces the United States to have a much needed discussion about gun control. In one of the last remaining bastions of American exceptionalism, over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun violence, rendering America the country with the most gun-related deaths in the industrialized world. In fact, in 2003, in 22 other high-income countries with a combined population of 563.5 million, there were 7,663 gun-related deaths, while in the United States, then with the population of 290.5 million, almost 30,000 people died from gun violence.

Yet, while this great catastrophe, roughly equivalent to 10 September 11th tragedies, continues to occur annually, the media has refused to properly do its job and highlight such a key issue. The media of today searches for sensationalism, often at the expense of fulfilling its important role of informing the public of the principal issues of the day. As around 82 people die daily from guns, isolated incidents are not sensational since they are ordinary and, thus, do not spike ratings or make more money for the corporations that control the media. Therefore, the media chooses to ignore gun violence, instead highlighting the latest celebrity breakup, the Kardashians or whatever else can distract a public with such a short attention span. However, this tragedy may provide an opportunity to finally have a meaningful discussion, just as a shooting in Australia in 1996 allowed the government to enact tougher laws that decreased the amount of gun possession.

Gun advocates often hide behind the Second Amendment as justification for having little paperwork filed before anyone can purchase an automatic assault rifle capable of spraying hundreds of bullets a minute. I offer a few words about the Second Amendment: it is outdated, anachronistic, impossible to relate to today’s issues and largely misunderstood. When the Bill of Rights was passed in 1791, America was starkly different than it is today. A new country was born out of an armed revolution, land gained from the 1783 Treaty of Paris stretched from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, the agrarian lifestyle of many Americans demanded firearms for hunting, protection and other work, and the standard weapon of the day, a flintlock musket, could fire at maximum three shots per minute.

The gun violence so prominent in the United States shadows the fundamental sicknesses ravaging American society; American society has embraced a culture of violence. The “arts”—which in America forget about literature or painting or sculpture—encompass primarily reality television, hip hop music and action-packed buddy films, all of which are gobbled up by a public craving violence, like an awaiting snapping turtle. Whatever the roots of these problems are, we know that gun violence has risen in the last several decades in correlation with inequality, poverty and an American malaise heightened by the age of globalization. If we refuse to fix or at the very least recognize the legitimate problems in society, then at the very least we must enact more stringent gun laws to prevent further tragedies.

If the right-wing refuses to either strengthen gun control laws or fundamentally restructure society, tragedies such as these will continue to happen. The right’s refusal to take action is treason at best, criminal at worst. However, a greater tragedy than the one in Aurora would be another tragedy and then another, all occurring without action or fundamental change. We can grapple some good from the shooting if we vow to never forget and never again allow such a massacre to happen. If we do nothing, then the dead will have died in vain.