Jeffrey Johnson Empire State Building Shooter: Another Day, Another Shooting

What is happening to our country? Far too many times this summer we have watched gun terror unfold across the United States. On July 20, 12 people were killed and 56 injured at the now infamous Aurora shooting; on August 5, seven people were killed at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin; and Friday morning 10 people were shot outside of New York’s Empire State Building. And these are hardly the only incidents of gun violence in our nation, they are just the highly publicized ones.

When considering gun violence in today's America, we must also take into account cities like San Jose (where eight people have been killed in the last 11 days) or Seattle, which has seen 51 homicides so far this year – more than any other year since the start of the century. Violence is very clearly on the rise, and shootings seem to occur without location discrimination: Movie theaters, temples, Manhattan’s midtown. We raise questions about our security: Are we safe? What can be done? My honest answer is, I’m really not sure. We have raised our voices, and our questions countless times, but with politicians too afraid to even adequately discuss the issue coupled with a massive ideological debate, this issue always seems to come to a stand still.

James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora shooter, was 24 years old; Wade Michael Page, the Sikh temple shooter, was 40 years old; and Jeffrey Johnson, the Empire State Building shooter, was 53. We could split hairs about what these men have in common, but the common denominator of their similarities is there ready access to guns.

As a 25-year-old who grew up in America defined by gun violence, I am almost ready to throw up my hands in defeat. From where I stand, (from the America I’ve witnessed,) our country is more defined by inaction than anything else. Our leaders make decisions based upon election outcomes, and our citizens are caught in such blue/red gridlock that issues are endlessly battled but never championed.

Do I think that our nation needs stricter gun laws? I do. Do I think that will really happen? I don’t ... at least not while elections are on the line. 

Walking past the police barricades on 34th street Friday morning, there were people crying in the street and crowds gathered in the shadow of the Empire State Building. Had I gotten off the subway five minutes earlier, my morning would have been very different. Every day each of us lives with this "what if" scenario, and most of the people killed or injured in these tragedies are just victims of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  

America is well overdue for sensible gun laws, but this same pattern (shooting, followed by gun law debate, followed by paralysis) has been relived so many times that at this point I am inclined to ask, "what's the use?" 

Of course, there is more to the violence debate than strictly gun laws, but it is safe to say that our dramatically high death numbers would be decreased with tighter laws. Between 9,000 and 10,000 Americans are murdered every year by guns, and nearly 30,000 Americans die as a result of a gun inflicting wound. Mass shooting get the most press, but there are clearly other incidences of violence that occur. 

In an article for CNN professor and co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at John Hopkins School of Public Health Daniel W. Webster writes:

"We should not brush aside discussions of gun policy as too politically difficult to expect meaningful change, or "the price for our freedoms." Instead, we should reflect on why the U.S. has a murder rate that is nearly seven times higher than the average murder rate in other high-income countries and a nearly 20 times higher murder rate with guns. And we should consider how flaws in current gun policies contribute to this disparity ... studies I have conducted indicate that stricter regulations of gun sales, whether by retail dealers or by private sellers, are associated with fewer guns diverted to criminals. Moreover, national national surveys show that a large majority of citizens favor these reforms to our gun laws, including most gun owners."

Words from men like Webster encourage me that gun law discussions do make a difference, and that perhaps one day our voices can be heard and our leaders will be brave enough to take action. My worry is that politicians' fears of losing elections is what breeds inaction, this then trickles down and turns into citizen's apathy. The gun debate has occurred so many times, with so few results, that it is natural to ask, what is the point of yet another discussion? What will it take for our voices to be heard? And how many times will Americans be ignored by our leaders before we just give up?