Mass shootings are an absolutely atrocious and largely unique part of our country’s culture. With the San Bernardino and Planned Parenthood attacks so fresh in our minds, we are all, once again, drawn to bickering about what the “problem” really is.
I have seen anti-gun-regulation arguments that cite examples of other violence (sans guns), saying essentially that bad people will still kill others, whether they have guns or not. One that seemed particularly off-topic to me referred to Cain killing Able with a rock.
I’m not here to argue specifically against the idea that people will do bad things. I think pretty much everyone agrees that there are plenty of people who commit terrible acts with or without access to guns.
But I do take issue with this particular argument because it is fatalistic. Almost none of the people I see making the ‘it’s a people problem’ argument are out there advocating for or otherwise supporting those ‘bad’ people.
Americans are woefully misinformed about issues of mental health. I would even take it a step further and propose that Americans are also generally lacking in emotional intelligence and empathy. We, as a culture, create and enforce systems of oppression, stigma, and self-loathing that essentially create these attackers.
So, sure, it may be a ‘people’ problem. But the people I’m talking about aren’t just the perpetrators of violence. They are the ones all around us, the people you and I become when we live in a place of competition and fear.
I think what makes me most upset about the gun control opposition is that they offer no counter solution. No gun law could possibly keep guns entirely out of public access. But I do believe that we should be treating guns like the dangerous weapons that they are. Regulating their sale and requiring a knowledge and/or skills test seems vital to me to acknowledge the power and responsibility that comes with being a gun owner. The absolute best comparison I have heard relates guns to cars. We’ve all accepted that we must pass a driving test and register our cars with the DMV; I don’t understand how doing the same with your gun is infringing on your rights in any greater way.
We need to recognize that the problem is multi-faceted. It IS a gun problem because automatic weapons kill much faster than most other weapons. It is also a culture problem, and we can’t ignore that piece of the puzzle.
To me, if you’re still arguing semantics about what the problem is, you’re a part of it. The focus ought to be on solutions that tackle both sides of this coin head on. I really believe we all play a role in this cultural epidemic, which means we all have a lot we can, and should, be doing already.
Everyone has those friends on Facebook who fill up your newsfeed with posts that completely and totally disagree with your line of thinking. Particularly in times of heated political and social debate, these people can become fervent with the opposing viewpoint, posting inflammatory statements one after another. Most people I know take one of two approaches to these friends: actively arguing with them via the comments section, or deleting the ‘friend’ entirely.
Every time I find an “anti-vaccine,” “anti-Islam,” “anti-refugee,” “all lives matter,” or “planned parenthood secrets” post on my feed, I am filled with dread and anger. I hover over the post for a moment and decide whether the source looks reputable enough to bother examining the content, almost delete the post, contemplate deleting the friend, and then ultimately move on.
In most cases, the people I would consider deleting are the sorts who just wouldn’t be convinced by anything I could tell them or show them, so arguing seems futile. So why don’t I just follow along with the trend and delete them?
Well, whether or not I like it, there are a lot of people in this world who agree with these Facebook friends of mine. It’s easy for me to forget this fact when I am generally surrounded by family and friends who are mostly in agreement with me, and when the internet automatically censors and sorts my content with an intention of showing me things I ‘like’. I rarely listen to the news unless it’s NPR, and that’s hardly what the majority of the United States pins as their top news source.
These Facebook friends actually serve a vital role in my life. They are people I vehemently disagree with but have some sort of personal connection to. They are real people, and I have probably seen something about them that I really like. Unlike when I listen to Fox news or hear Donald Trump speak, I am forced to realize that people actually do believe this stuff that I often think is totally unbelievable. As much as I want to, I can’t dismiss these viewpoints as unimportant or uninfluential. These friends are a bright red stop sign, checking me on the so-called-progress I think our society is making.
It’s so easy when you’re in a city like Seattle or attending a liberal-leaning college to see the world as you think it should be within your reach. The bubble I create wherein everyone is ready and willing to discuss issues sensitively, openly, vulnerably… Well, that is a bubble that needs to pop every so often or else I run the risk of becoming complacent. Particularly, being white and not witnessing much of the racial violence that occurs on an everyday basis, I am at a great risk for becoming complacent and therefore a silent and complicit bystander.
So, today, I say thank you to the people I don’t agree with for sharing articles and opinions that I want to hate. I need to see conflicting beliefs, and I need to know what you’re thinking. I know it’s not all that I can and should do to work toward cooperation and better dialogue, but I think it’s important all the same. I live in my bubble a lot of the time. I’d like to spend more time trying to find ways out of it than building mechanisms to keep me in.
Let the record show that I’m not an economist. I’m not a resident of El Paso. I know much less than I wish I did about the state of immigration in the U.S.A., and I know even less than that about the violent conflicts in Central and South America that are driving people from their homes.
But here’s what I do know. I visited El Paso a couple days ago and stayed with one of my best friends, who is doing amazing work helping those people who many systems in the U.S. try to diminish, deport, and demoralize.
El Paso is a big city, and its population is about 80% Hispanic. Spanish is spoken as often as English is–both by residents and visitors. Most amazing to me is that El Paso is a city divided by a big metal fence. It’s conjoined twin, Juarez sits just on the other side, and if you’re looking out over the city, the dividing line is almost indistinguishable.
When I think about the U.S./Mexican border, I don’t usually think about cities like El Paso/Juarez. The media tends to portray the border as a war zone a mile wide with a huge fence running down the middle, no people in sight. Somehow in the U.S., Mexico still seems really far away from us. I’m sure my childhood understanding of the Mexican border is hugely shaped by where I’ve grown up (pretty much everywhere except the southwest), so I’d be curious to talk to people who grew up in San Diego, Las Cruces, and other more similar border towns to find out if they felt the weird, negative, distanced perception of the border was present in their lives or not.
But, the real reason I wanted to write something about my experience in El Paso is linked to a conversation I had with my friend that made me really stop and think about the ‘immigration crisis’ in a new way.
Not only was it obvious to me, being so close to Juarez, just how silly and arbitrary political borders really are, but I also met a lot of women and children who were guests at the Annunciation House (where my friend works) who were refugees of violence. I had never really thought before about the ‘immigration crisis’ as a ‘refugee crisis,’ and suddenly it occurred to me that the country was discussing this issue completely inaccurately.
There should be immigration reform, definitely. But it seems to me that in a world where there is so much violence and persecution so near our borders, we should be taking a long, hard look at our policies on granting asylum and refugee status. From my limited research, it appears that the U.S. does take in numbers of refugees that close to double the U.N. standard of 50,000 annually (which seems a small number in the grand scheme of things). But none of the countries mentioned as top refugee contributors are located in South or Central America.
Something about this feels off to me. Why exactly is the U.S. so afraid of talking about the crises of Hispanic populations on the same level as populations in countries like Iraq and China? Why don’t we ever refer to the refugees attempting to cross into our country within these ‘immigration crisis’ conversations? What is it about these populations that gives us perceived permission to dismiss their hardships as ‘deserved’ or ‘just a part of their country’ or some other excuse?
I can tell you one thing–walking across the border from the U.S. to Mexico and back will call you to attention. It will force you to realize that people are the issue, that policy is the thing in the far off distance. When you hear the stories, meet the people, walk the streets they walk, you have to believe that there is a better way than building a new Great Wall and forcing everyone onto their ‘own’ sides.
I would love to hear from anyone who has knowledge about this issue. I am frustrated by the quality of dialogue in the United States in a lot of ways, and this one seems particularly damaging to the general population’s understanding of the issue. Tell me what you think, what you know, what you’ve heard. We can only start to change the conversation by participating in it.