The Texas Church Shooting: A Reflection

On Sunday, November 5, 26-year-old Devin Kelley entered First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and started shooting an assault rifle, leaving 26 people dead, ranging in age from 1 year old to 72.

In the aftermath of this shooting, like with most others, the country must grapple with two conflicting narratives. There are those who say that now is the time to get serious about enacting gun control policies while others, such as White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, say that this response is “disrespectful to the dead.” While I can understand the desire to give the families affected a period to mourn their losses in peace away from divisive politics, there is one problem with this notion: If we continue to wait until it becomes “tasteful” to talk about gun control, the conversation may never happen.

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According to CNN, there are two ways we can define “mass shooting.” The narrowest and most commonly used definition classifies a mass shooting as an event in which a gunman “kills four or more people, selects victims randomly (ruling out gang killings or the killing of multiple family members), and attacks in a public space.” Under this definition, “we have seen ten deadly mass shootings from January 1 to November 5,” or approximately one every month.  Events such as the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice in June do not apply to this definition before at least four people were not killed, even if they were shot.

The second definition is more inclusive. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an event where there are four or more peopleshot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location not including the shooter.” Under this definition, there have been “307 mass shootings from January 1 to November 5,” which averages to seven a week, or one every day.

Regardless of which definition we want to use, one thing is very clear: by the time it is deemed “tasteful” to talk about gun control (or long before this point), another mass shooting has likely already occurred, and then the conversation will have to be delayed again. America has a serious gun problem, and it cannot be fixed if we don’t talk about it.

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So why don’t we talk about it? I’m sure part of it is that some people have legitimate concerns about politicizing people’s deaths. But I think the biggest reason is that we just don’t want to. America is a country where gun ownership is enshrined as a right by our Constitution, which is really rare when looking at from a global perspective. Not only is owning guns a right, but it is a core right laid out by the Bill of Rights. The idea of drastically changing, or completely eliminating, something that is foundational to the origins of our nation is (understandably) something that makes people uncomfortable. But when that something creates and enables an environment that results in the unnecessary deaths of so many people, we do not have a right to be passive about that. We have an amendment process for a reason.

 America prides itself on being forward-thinking and better than other nations in the world (hence the term American Exceptionalism). But if we really want to be better than others, we first need to be better than ourselves. Bringing an end to mass shootings and gun violence is possible, we just have to decide that we want to.

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