America the Beautiful? I Don’t Know About That
I’ve lived to see so much gun violence that I question the greatness of our nation
The views expressed in this Op-Ed do not necessarily reflect those of Loop 21.
I only share that number to give context to the following numbers: 60, the number of school shootings that have been reported since my birth; 4, the number of mass shootings I’ve written about this year; 100,000, the number of people shot or killed in the U.S. per year on average; and 0, the number of times I’ve felt like someone actually wanted to do something “meaningful” to prevent any of it.
With Friday’s horrific mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., where a young gunman took the lives of 20 children and six adults at a public elementary school, I felt we waded into territory that confirms that we as a nation aren’t nearly as mighty as we purport to be.
How is it that a nation which is able to put a man on the moon, foster innovators who create the world’s most popular consumer technologies, and go from enslaving Africans to electing (and re-electing) its first black president, can’t muster the political will to protect the most innocent among us from being shot multiple times with a semi-automatic assault rifle at school?
“Can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations?” he poignantly asked before an audience of solemn and sobbing Connecticut residents. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children -- all of them -- safe from harm?”
He continued: “I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.… We can’t tolerate this anymore. Surely, we can do better than this.”
[ALSO READ: Full Text of Obama's Remarks]
Well said. But I don’t believe him. Obama, who arguably gives some of the best speeches on occasions like these, is just like all other presidents before him in this regard. He governs a nation that has yet to show -- by any noticeable metric -- when and where we have done better.
Since the mid-1990s, the number of civilian firearms has outpaced the U.S. population, Mother Jones reports. There are 300 million privately owned handguns stashed around the U.S. In 1995, there were an estimated 200 million. Mass shootings, often carried out with assault rifles, ones for which a federal ban expired in 2004, have increased in recent years, according to Mother Jones’ analysis of crime data since 2006.
But that isn’t nearly as concerning as the number of laws passed in recent years to increase the likelihood that you are sitting in a bar, in a church, or at school with an adult carrying a legally concealed firearm, the types of firearms with which the Trayvon Martins and Jordan Davises of the world might be killed every day in “one-off” killings. This week, Florida will issue its 1 millionth concealed carry permit. A federal court in Illinois last week invalidated the state’s ban on carrying concealed firearms – this in a state that encompasses Chicago, from where the president hails and which by early fall had seen its 438th homicide. According to estimates by the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, nearly 270 people are shot every day in the U.S.
The idea circulating on social media sites that “America is No. 1” in the world when it comes to gun violence is not completely accurate. We actually rank third among industrialized countries with the most gun homicides, according to Politifact, which, in July, fact-checked the notion after the Aurora, Colo., movie theater massacre that left 12 dead and nearly 60 injured.
But you don’t need much analysis to gather that the U.S. likely ranks first in deadly school shootings. We might be the only industrialized country where you can become obese without trying, can leave public schools without reading at college level, can live in the most-free nation without voting -- and be mowed down by a firearm when you've done nothing to deserve it.
There’s nothing great about that. Nothing at all.