By: Emily Sohn
Student Writer for The Journal of Gender, Race & Justice, Volume 17
Our hearts at JGRJ go out to the families and friends of victims of gun violence. There is no excuse for such senseless and tragic loss of human life. Once again, we must face the question: how ought we prevent a similar tragedy in the future?
The gun control debate occupies a complex space in our national dialogue. Besides self-defense, firearm possession stir emotions related to personal autonomy–both as an end (the right to choose responsible gun ownership for oneself) and as a means (in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “The best defense against tyranny is a well-armed populace.”) At some point, however, shouldn’t our interests in public welfare and preventing needless tragedy outweigh our fear of “tyranny”?
Intriguingly, a recent Gallup poll, conducted after the Navy Yard shooting, shows that fewer Americans support more restrictive gun laws than in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. Furthermore, fewer Americans supported restrictive gun law after Sandy Hook than in late 2000. Rather, we are increasingly more likely to support more comprehensive mental health care, in place of gun control laws.
This makes it sound like senseless gun violence occurs only with the right mix of mental illness and legal loopholes–a sort of tragic happenstance. Media coverage of gun violence certainly suggests this is the case. President Obama has thrown his weight behind gun control reforms that appeal to these concerns.
Reality indicates otherwise. In Chicago in September, thirty-eight people were wounded or killed as the result of gun violence. This number includes 13 wounded in a mass shooting last Thursday, when a gang-affiliated gunman sprayed a public park with bullets from an automatic assault rife. Among the injured was a 3-year-old child. Chicago authorities have responded by pointing out that the rate of gun violence in the city is actually down about 20%.
Ultimately, national media was largely silent. Coverage went to revelations about Aaron Alexis’ mental health and financial situation. More extensive violence, affecting mostly disenfranchised, working-class neighborhoods, is relegated to the local news.
The effect on our national psyche is apparent. We shouldn’t discount the dangers posed by insufficient mental healthcare, nor should we ignore loopholes in background check requirements. But we can’t forget, gun violence isn’t a rare occurrence, and doesn’t necessarily stem from mental illness. It’s time to take steps to prevent any more senseless gun violence. But we can’t let selective media coverage blind us to the full panoply of its causes.