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SHAH: Maybe tragedy should be politicized to create change

Opinions Column: Wait, Was That Racist?

One year at my high school, a couple of kids in my grade came to school dressed up in flannels and boots as “school shooters” for Halloween. It was not funny … just heartbreakingly insensitive. Even though those students were immediately chastised by our school administration, the wild inconsideration displayed by such an instance still makes me think. 

Unfortunately, the narrative of every school shooting is eerily the same, to the point where high school students found it amusing to dress up as this stock character. A child is neglected and bullied — the same child also has a history of playing violent video games or mental health issues. That child has access to a gun — innocent students and teachers die. For some reason, we see the pattern again and again, but rarely does anything change despite the increasing body count. When such a pattern is obvious, it is alarming that Americans are more concerned with their gun rights than they are about the lives that are at stake when we forego necessary, common-sense gun control legislation. According to an ongoing analysis by the Washington Post, "more than 150,000 students attending approximately 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999."

It is becoming obvious that this gun violence is painfully unique to America: among developed nations, the United States has the most firearm homicides, and we are only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but we own almost half of the guns. If this is not enough for politicians to start coming up with tangible methods to put an end to this violence, what will be? 

In the wake of national tragedies such as the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there is a certain amount of finesse and technique politicians must master to approach such a volatile issue. Politicizing the tragedy is seen as villainous and horrific, as Ted Cruz took to Fox News to blame Democrats for politicizing the most recent high school shooting. But the truth is, we cannot take our time with such a lethal issue, no matter how polarizing these issues can be. And in the wake of something so devastating, we may finally have the motivation and support to pass the legislation necessary. As the grief wears off, we become more and more distanced from the painfulness of each tragedy to the point where many of us are oftentimes desensitized through no fault of our own. The sorrow we felt for those lost at Sandy Hook is not the same as the sorrow we feel now, more than 1,300 mass shootings later. Shootings become more and more commonplace and our frustration with that brutal truth grows faster than our sympathy for those lost. The truth is, we are getting tired of seeing a problem perpetuated that should have already stalled. 

Last, but certainly not least: we need to call on our current administration and its leader, President Donald J. Trump, who tweeted, “So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!” The tweet not only totally avoids the issue of gun control, but it also conveniently omits the fact that Trump signed a bill rolling back a regulation from former President Barack Obama's administration put into place, which determined the fitness of those with mental illnesses to own guns. The painful irony strikes as we remember Trump promising on his campaign, “Your child isn’t going to be shot.” NRA favorite Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) answered questions with similar platitudes about mental health during the post-shooting press conference. It is easy to blame mental health and label situations like these as atypical.

Now more than ever, we need to take tangible strides to solve this normalized, persistent problem. Creating a scapegoat like mental illness is only an excuse to avoid tough decisions regarding a polarizing issue. Mental illness is an invisible enemy that we do not stand a chance against. And while it is positive that we are seriously looking at mental health issues and getting people the help they need, we cannot group and condemn all those who struggle with mental health issues as the crux of the problem. Luckily, guns are a real enemy that we can fight. In fact, findings in from the American Journal of Epidemiology from 2016 of 130 studies in 10 countries found that there is a potential correlation between the strengthening of restrictions of gun ownership and the decrease of gun violence. And if we are not taking every measure possible to make progress, everything from mental healthcare to gun control, then what value does human life truly have to us if we read about these shootings in headlines, but do nothing substantial to stop them from happening again and again? 

So, in case there really needs to be one more plea for common-sense gun legislation, here it is. Seventeen more people dead. What more is it going to take? 

Anjali Shah is a Rutgers Business School first-year, double majoring in finance and political science. Her column, “Wait, Was That Racist?”, runs on alternate Fridays.


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