Mass Shootings Cannot Define America

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President Barack Obama | Source: ABC News

From personal experience living and traveling abroad, I must admit that I have been very weary when it comes to sharing my nationality with those I meet. Trust me, I am not ashamed of being born and raised in the United States. I am privileged and I acknowledge this. However, something struck me while I was in Southeast Asia a couple of years ago. There, I met an individual who told me that when they thought of America, the first two things to come to mind were: Hollywood and guns.

Guns? Is that what the world thinks of my country? Could this really be the case? 

Yesterday, a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California left 14 dead and 21 wounded at a center for people with developmental disabilities. This attack occurred less than a week after the shooting at Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Robert Lewis Dear stands accused of killing three individuals: a policeman, an Iraq war veteran and a mother. Nine others were taken to the hospital.

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Source: WXYZ Detroit

After being briefed on the San Bernardino shootings, President Barack Obama sat for an interview with CBS. In the interview with Norah O’Donnell, he noted the following:

“The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world, and there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently, commonsense gun — safety laws, stronger background checks and you know, for those who are concerned about terrorism of… some may be aware of the fact that we have a no fly list where people can’t get on planes but those same people who we don’t allow to fly could go into a store right now in the United States and buy a firearm and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them…. We should never think that this is something that just happens in the ordinary course of events, because it doesn’t happen with the same frequency in other countries.”

There’s no doubt that Obama has made similar statements before. The frequency of mass shootings — which leave four or more dead or wounded — in America is astonishing.

In 2015 alone, there have been on average one or more mass shootings per day. Post-Millenials — or recently named “The Founders” — are growing up in a world where they are bombarded by technology and transient media trends. Is our youngest generation being raised in a society that is desensitized to violence?

There are several arguments that have surfaced throughout news and media outlets since yesterday’s tragedy in California.

The Washington Post notes how “the world spun on” following a mass shooting that occurred early Wednesday morning in Savannah, Georgia. The names of the victims nor shooter have not been identified. This attack has not receive national coverage to the extent of that in San Bernardino.

Republican candidates for the 2016  presidential election are being criticized and shamed for empty platitudes made following the tragedy in San Bernardino. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with praying for victims and their families, but critique has been raised because people want action. Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates have made a point to call for stricter gun control. Just this evening, Senate struck down gun control proposals, demonstrating the stark divide among Congress on how to respond to gun violence.

Ryan speaks at the SALT conference in Las Vegas
House Speaker Paul Ryan | Source: MSNBC

Earlier this morning, House Speaker Paul Ryan noted the following in response to the California shootings, as he highlights mental illness is at the root of the prevalence of mass shootings in America:

“What we have seen — and a common theme among many of these mass shootings — is a theme of mental illness… And we need to fix our mental illness laws, our policies. They’re outdated. And that is something that we are working on right now.”

And worse, so soon after the Paris attacks last month, irresponsible media, like that seen with The New York Post’s tabloid cover, continues to fuel Islamophobia. In their circulating cover, The Post makes it a point to demonize an entire religion by calling the shooters in San Bernardino “Muslim Killers.” This is both offensive and a reflection of discriminative reporting, especially for an immigrant nation known as a melting pot of different faiths.

So who, or what, is to blame here?

The GOP? Leftists? Gridlock in our nation’s capital? Gun legislation? Mental health care? Islam? Terrorism? With so many conversations in the mix, it is challenging to make sense of what the media tells us. But one thing is for certain:

It is our responsibility to determine how our nation responds to such a crisis, especially since we have the privilege to participate in our nation’s political process. We, as a community, should be outraged by how frequent mass shootings occur. Change requires action.

Empty platitudes and ranting on social media posts or comment threads are not enough. The conversation is much more complex than the NRA. It is more than a need for proper mental health diagnosis and treatment. It is more than psychiatric hospital beds. It is more than terrorism.

Placing blame on a single person or factor is not the answer – and to be clear, Muslims should not be at the crux of anyone’s argument. Islam is a peaceful religion with different sects. It is a very specific (and small) percentage that are extremists who carry out terrorist acts. Let us not forget that our nation is quick to pardon white individuals responsible for mass shootings. Their acts are excused by the presence of a mental illness and rarely are they portrayed as Christian extremists.

We can and must do better. It starts by showing compassion and acceptance for those who are different from us. It continues with us being well-informed of current events and speaking up in a constructive way. The needle moves with action.

Contact your elected officials and start voicing your concerns in a letter, phone call, or during in-person visit (as constituents, you definitely can walk in to their offices to speak with them). You can look up and contact your senators and representative here:

We have representation for a reason – to be represented. The ability to be part of our nation’s political process is both a privilege and a right that we cannot afford to take for granted.

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