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Kalamazoo shooting spotlights gun control

Credit: Jarel Grant/ Credit: Jarel Grant/
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On the night of Saturday, Feb. 20, Jason Brian Dalton, a 45-year-old Uber driver with a wife and two kids, went on a shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He left six people dead and two injured. The victims apparently had no connection to Dalton and were randomly picked as targets. It’s a community’s worst nightmare — “How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren’t targeted for any reason other than they were there to be a target?” said Kalamazoo County prosecutor Jeff Getting to
The Atlantic.

Unfortunately, this kind of gun violence is not uncommon in the United States. In fact, according to the Mass Shooting Tracker, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot (including the shooter, should they shoot themselves), the Kalamazoo shooting was the 44th mass shooting in 2016. Since Kalamazoo, at the time that this article was written, six more incidences of mass shootings have been added to the list, bringing the total number of mass shootings in the first 57 days of 2016 to 50, the number of people injured to 173, and the number of fatalities to 78.

Every time a tragedy like Kalamazoo makes the headlines, there are dozens of similar tragedies that fly under the radar, such as the workplace shooting in Hesston, Kansas on Thursday, Feb. 25, that left four dead and 14 injured at multiple sites, or the man who shot and killed four people on a rural property in Belfair, Washington before shooting himself, also on Feb. 25. Mass shootings have become commonplace occurrences. Some are premeditated; others are random. Some have no fatalities, while others are deadly. Some are committed by mentally healthy people, while others are committed by people struggling with mental illness, but they all end the same way — with a community left devastated and terrified of weapons from which they cannot protect themselves.

While mass shootings have become common in the United States, they are not nearly as commonplace in other developed countries. According to the Human Development Index, for every one million Americans, there are 29.7 homicides by firearms each year, the highest in the world. The nation with the next highest rate is Switzerland, who has only 7.7 firearm homicides per million people.

We need to start looking at the rate of mass shootings and gun violence in the United States as a problem with a solution, not just a series of tragedies that are bound to happen in a world where guns and violent people exist. We cannot simply turn away from these tragedies and say that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” It is true that a gun cannot shoot on its own, but it is also true that for a person with a gun, especially with a semiautomatic handgun that can be easily concealed, such as the gun that Dalton used, it only takes a pull of a trigger to end someone’s life. It just takes a split second of rash decision-making, a brief wave of uncontrollable anger, or a slip of a finger. How can we stand idly by and not acknowledge how much easier guns make it for people to kill people? How can we try and justify this loss of life by saying “it wasn’t the gun’s fault?”

As Americans, we have Second Amendment rights that entitle us to the possession and protection of firearms. This is a right born out of the desire to protect ourselves and our families, and that is definitely a worthy endeavor. But when we as a country face incidences of mass shootings on an almost-daily basis, when our desire to protect enables others to destroy, there is something fundamentally wrong with the laws and attitudes surrounding guns. This is not a question of who has what rights, it is not a question of the power of the government, and it is not a question of what party the NRA supports. This is an issue that pertains to the saftey and well-being of American citizens and must be treated as such.

According to Vox.com, “In Australia, after a 1996 mass shooting, lawmakers passed new restrictions on guns and imposed a mandatory buyback program … seizing at least 650,000 firearms. According to one review of the evidence by Harvard researchers, Australia’s homicide rate dropped about 42 percent in the seven years after the law was passed and its firearm suicide rate fell by 57 percent.” In the United States, where gun culture is very much ingrained in our society, a buyback program like this would not stand a chance of passing in Washington, and even if it did, it would not be a be-all, end-all solution to gun violence. People will find ways to get guns if they want guns, and there is no legislative action that can prevent this. But Australia is an important case study to consider — when we limit the number of guns available, there is a likely chance that the amount of gun violence will decrease. When less people have guns, it makes sense that guns will kill less people.

Mass shootings do not have to be things that just happen, even in the United States. A high rate of gun violence does not have to be a defining trait of this country. But without a change of attitude concerning gun control, there will be nothing done to prevent more innocent people from being killed. If we are not able to look past the controversy and really consider how we can enable people to protect themselves with guns while better protecting people from guns, nothing will change. My thoughts and prayers go out to the people of Kalamazoo, to the people of Hesston and Belfair, and the other 47 places in the United States that have experienced mass shootings in 2016. May these tragedies serve as a wakeup call for change.