By Grace Masback
WANT Original Content
“We’ve become numb to this,” President Obama said in a press conference Thursday. “This is something we should politicize, it is relevant to our common life together, to the body politic.”
The president was referring to the events of Oct. 1, 2015, when a 20-year-old white male with an automatic weapon walked into a classroom at Umpqua Community College (UCC) in Roseburg Oregon, told everyone in the room to lie on the floor and identify their religion, and opened fire. Ten people were killed and seven were wounded. Students from the college were evacuated to a nearby fairground to be reunited with relatives, though hours after the shooting many relatives remained stranded and waiting, with no news of their loved ones. The shooter died in custody. According to the Huffington Post, there have been 74 mass school shootings in the last 18 months. The school shooting at UCC was the 45th school shooting in 2015, and comes on the heels of the racially motivated shooting at a Church in Charleston, South Carolina in June.
UCC, one of the few colleges in its region, has a diverse population, with students ranging from age 16 to 66. According to the Huffington Post, Roseburg Sheriff John Hanlin said of the event, “This is a small community. A lot of our friends and family attend this college. I personally know a number of people I work with that had very strong concerns about the welfare for loved ones going to school there.”
According to the university, all campus security guards were present at UCC at the time of the shooting, but, following campus policy, none of them were armed. Roseburg, a small Southern Oregon community of 22,000, is reeling after the tragedy. UCC interim President Rita Cavin announced that the college would be closed Friday Oct. 2, but would plan to re-open Monday Oct. 5. She announced no immediate plans for tighter security on campus but expressed deep shock and sadness in the wake of the tragedy. Cavin told Huffington Post, “I feel awful.”
Following news of the shooting, President Obama gave a passionate and severely critical address to the press, showing an emotional side that he often keeps under wraps. He angrily condemned the shootings, stating, “Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine, as is the conversation in the aftermath of it.” He continued by emotionally professing, “I hope and pray that I don’t have to come out again during my tenure as president to offer my condolences … but based on my experiences as president I can’t guarantee that. And that’s terrible to say. And it can change.”
In the press conference the President discussed the fact that the United States spends billlions of dollars each year and has entire agencies and political agendas devoted to counter terrorism efforts, but that more liberal lawmakers are consistently blocked or criticized for attempting to pass legislation to promote stricter laws concerning the distribution and use of guns and the screening of purchasers. President Obama challenged the media to compare the number of Americans who have been killed by terrorist attacks over the course of the last decade with the number of Americans who have been killed by gun violence. Vox news took him up on the challenge, and the results are shocking.
As reported by Vox, data from the US State Department showed that in 2002 there were 11,829 deaths as a result of gun related homicides, and 25 US citizens killed by terrorists. In 2004, there were 11,624 deaths as a result of gun related homicides and 74 US citizens killed by terrorism. In 2006, there were 12,791 gun related homicides and 28 US citizens killed by terrorism.
Yet, in recent months, there has been more discussion and panic about ISIS invading the United States than discussing gun control and the prevention of mass shootings – right-wing lawmakers continue to resist legislation that could in any way curtail gun rights.
This most recent shooting in Roseburg brings up three key topics.
First, the United States has a significant and pervasive need for legislation to better control the use, ownership, and distribution of guns in the United States. There needs to be more education about the dangers of guns, screening of potential gun owners for past violence and mental health, and a harsher crackdown on legal possession of firearms. In 1996, in the wake of a 35 person shooting massacre, Australia banned all semi-automatic weapons. They have had no mass shootings since. In 2012, there were only 40 gun related homicides in Australia, conversely, there were approximately 11,000 gun related homicides in the US in 2011. Newton was only three years ago, Charleston only 3 months. As President Obama clearly articulated, something needs to change.
Second, what drives people to kill? In the coming days details and information will begin to emerge about the killer and his motivations. We will learn about his past, his possible struggle with mental illness or familial turmoil. What prompts people to go to a school, point a gun, and shoot? It is imperative that we begin to work towards an understanding of why people decide to kill en masse, so that the proper precautions can be taken to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. In many cases, these individuals were in desperate need of care for mental illness or positive guidance from a familial figure. It is now the responsibility of society to take steps towards identifying these people, getting them the care they need, and stopping tragedies before they begin.
Finally, this shooting and the many others that have occurred since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, have created a sense of fear and apprehension at schools and colleges around the country. Students of all ages now have to participate in lock down drills and practice evacuating as if there was a shooter on campus. This is not something students had to do 20 years ago. I, along with countless other students at high schools around the country will feel a little unsafe going to school tomorrow, and I will hug my parents a little bit tighter when I get home. Like UCC, my school, Catlin Gabel has an open campus. We don’t have armed security. Anyone could walk in or out. Every person deserves access to an education in a location that is safe, secure, and conducive to learning. Heightening security in schools is merely a palliative measure, it does not change the ever-present issue of gun abuse and violence that persists in the United States today.
Thursday’s tragedy has presented America with several opportunities — an opportunity to reconsider and strengthen its gun control laws, an opportunity to change how we deal with mental illness, an opportunity to adjust how we rehabilitate violent offenders, an opportunity to take steps to bring safety and security to millions of students around the country and to prevent such tragedies from occurring again. The choice, ultimately, lies in the hands of lawmakers, but as citizens and youth, it is our job to raise our voices up in the wake of this deplorable shooting and call for change.
Photo Credit: The NYT