The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December that prematurely ended the lives of 20 children and six adult staff, left our country in a collective state of grievance. In its wake, activists used the tragedy as a springboard for tighter gun regulation and a higher emphasis on mental disorder research. In this time, social media exploded, poignant West Wing clips resurfaced, and an uplifted audience gave a standing ovation to an inspiring presidential rally at the 2013 State of the Union Address. But now, only three months since the incident, has the push for change dwindled? Have we as a nation lost our communal flame?
Earlier Tuesday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced to fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that the assault weapons ban that she had introduced almost two months ago would not be included in the package of new gun laws that’s set for proposal to the Senate floor in April. The ban will still be voted on in Congressional debates, but as an amendment to the larger gun bill, which pro-ban leaders fear might nullify its chances of passing. The ban’s controversial nature is what drove it from the overall gun laws plan, which carries much more bipartisan support than the ban on assault weapons does.
This wouldn’t be the first time that the U.S. has claimed a ban on assault weapons. In 1994, Congress passed a bill banning the sales of weapons of a certain magnitude. Of course both advocates and those in opposition to the current ban have been citing the previous ban to validate their opinions, but even Christopher S. Koper, an expert on the subject and author of An Updated Assessment of the Federal Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence balks at drawing conclusive evidence from his studies. While the gun crimes involving assault weapons declined, the use of other guns equipped with large-capacity magazines proliferated.
So, if we use history as our indicator, Senator Feinstein’s ban being dropped from the Senate bill is relatively marginal. Democrats will still have strong support for the other bills such as new gun trafficking and school safety bills, right? But this time, it’s different. It’s not about the need for a ban on assault weapons as a bill that’s important, it is the principle of such a law that’s so devastating to the activists' agendas.
As I was running earlier today, I was listening to the second part of a two-part This American Life episode on violence at a Chicago high school. The reporters tracked the stories of both the students at Harper High and the administrators who work there, following their struggles to retain relative high school normalcy amidst the violence they endure daily. In the 2011-2012 school year, 27 Harper students fell victim to gunshots, eight of whom were fatally injured. Students in the program tell stories of seeing their 10-year-old cousin’s brains lying to next to her after a shooting at her birthday party, of needing to walk in the middle of the street after school to avoid the shadows of the sidewalk, of not being able to sleep for weeks because of ongoing trauma and rage. This is the culture we need to eliminate. Yes, it’s about getting guns off the streets. But it’s more this acceptance of guns as part of our nation’s identity that puts us as such risk.
The War Room account on twitter posted the following statistic on March 13, 2013: "In the 89 days since the Sandy Hook tragedy, there have been more than 2600 gun deaths in America."
We, as a nation, cannot keep turning our heads from this painful reality. It doesn’t matter what kind of weapons we’re talking about — high-capacity magazines, handguns, shotguns — we need to create forum to discuss such matters. Whether or not Feinstein’s proposed ban passes or not (which, for the record, it’s looking like it won’t), the fact that she is not even going to discuss it alongside the other bills that are being proposed is only adjudicating our dismissal of gun violence and the culture alongside it as legitimate issues in our country today.