Almost every day in recent memory, my phone has buzzed with a CNN alert of another tragedy or threat of tragedy that had taken place somewhere in our nation related to guns. Whether in my own community here in Washington D.C. or somewhere else around the nation, I continue to read reports of people being senselessly killed by gun violence, and every time I read these reports, I find myself asking, "What can we do to stop this epidemic?" But after pondering uncomfortably for a few minutes (and after an inevitable post on social media), I return to my life as it was before, never doing anything of substance to address this issue that takes more lives in our nation than drunk driving or terrorism.
What are we to do when we come to a point in our nation's history where there are more mass shootings in our country than days in the year? What are we to do when our universities are regularly put on lockdown because of threats of gun violence? What are we to do when a majority of our political leaders think a single tweet offering "thoughts and prayers" to the victims of these tragedies is somehow enough of a response to the repeated loss of human life?
The answer, it turns out, isn't very hard to discern. According to GunPolicy.org, it is estimated that there are 310,000,000 guns in the hands of civilians in the U.S. today. In many states, one can walk into a department store like Walmart and purchase a handgun within minutes. What is the purpose of this? Why do 310,000,000 need access to lethal weapons? Why should the average citizen be able to buy firearms and similar weapons at any time and for any reason?
Many will argue that the violence we have seen in our nation has little to do with guns at all, and more to do with increased mental illness in our nation, as Marco Rubio argued in a piece on Townhall.com in 2013. At some level, I believe Rubio is right. There is clearly a problem in our nation when multiplied thousands of people are being led to carry out mass homicides through either ideological radicalization or mental disturbance. There is some credence to the fact that restricting access to firearms, in and of itself, will not necessarily reduce the amount of mentally disturbed and radicalized individuals who will attempt to carry out violence.
But what this argument fails to admit is that by restricting access to guns, the magnitude of these tragedies will be significantly lowered. If mentally disturbed and radicalized people do not have access to firearms which allow them to murder dozens of people in a matter of seconds, then we will significantly reduce the number of deaths and the magnitude of crimes that occur every year in our nation.
Still, many will argue, enforcing stricter gun-control laws wont necessarily keep guns out of the hands of criminals. While it is true that hundreds of gun-related deaths each year come from those who have obtained guns illegally, does this mean that we should not work to make it harder for criminals to obtain them? Strict gun control laws will certainly not solve the problem over night. There are millions of privately owned firearms across America and that will not change any time soon. But does that mean we should not begin the hard work of reducing those numbers by making it more difficult for individuals to obtain firearms in order to reduce those numbers over the next decade?
It seems to me that both sides of the gun control argument have legitimate points. For the pro-firearm conservative, we must acknowledge and work to provide better and more immediate access to mental health care for those who show signs of mental disturbance and radicalization. This is a laudable point that must be included in our discussions about ending gun violence. But from the progressive side, it seems clear that we must work for comprehensive reform of our nation's gun control laws to match the laws of countries like Australia and the United Kingdom who have seen a nearly 50% drop in gun-related deaths since they implemented their reform acts, proving that gun control acts do, in fact, reduce the death toll significantly.
The evidence seems clear. As Americans who value the rights of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", we must not stand complacent in the face of such an affront to all of these values. Even more than that, the nearly 70% of Americans that identify as Christians have more of a reason to raise our voices in favor of gun control. This is a pro-life issue. Our faith compels us to defend the lives of all people, to work to end unjust violence, and to be advocates for peace, healing, and reconciliation. It seems incomprehensible that anyone who professes allegiance to this faith would sit complacently on the sidelines while thousands are massacred.
All of us must come to realize that this is not primarily a political issue. This shouldn't be just another one of the hot button issues that determine whether or not you're a faithful "conservative" or "liberal". This isn't primarily about ideology at all. It's about real, tangible, human lives. We must resist the temptation to get caught up in the politicized games surrounding these issues and instead, keep our focus on the real lives of real people that have been cut short because of the lack of mental health care and ease of access to firearms. And we must take action. Regardless of our political affiliation or religious denomination. This is a human rights issue that transcends all boundaries and borders. And if we remain complacent, we will only see the loss of more lives in the near future.