Step Up

I’m stubborn as hell. Any number of family members, close friends and ex-girlfriends can attest. Despite that, I won’t ever claim to know everything about something.

And on the topics of guns, religion and politics, I definitely don’t know everything. All I know is what I have experienced first-hand. Well, and the basic facts (i.e. guns can kill people, religion is viewed in many different ways, etc.).

I’ve fired a gun twice in my life. Same day, same place, aiming at targets, under the tutelage of people who owned them legally. It was an awesomely powerful, terrifying feeling.

Similarly, I’ve been to a church service twice in my life. The first time I was too young to remember. The second time came as a teenager, when I volunteered to serve meals at GLIDE Memorial in San Francisco and stayed afterward to attend the service upstairs. I only recall hugging random strangers and singing and dancing and feeling really, really happy.

And that’s it. That’s all of it. This is all I really know about guns and religion.

But in the aftermath of another mass shooting (for those of you playing along at home, a shooting is defined as “mass” if four or more people are shot, and a startling fact is that there have been 355 of them in our country…this year), I feel compelled to share my thoughts on, and understanding of, politics; even if this blog already feels like thousands of other articles – just adding to the clutter.

Anyway, let’s start with the redundancy of it all. I don’t know about you, but massacres like this don’t fill me with shock, awe and dread anymore. It’s such a common occurrence that upon hearing about San Bernardino, I literally said, “Oh, again? Damn it.”

As if that utterance (or a random blog, or anything written about the tragedy and its many, many adjacent story lines) helps at all. What it all ends up amounting to is some people angry about guns, other people angry that those people are angry about guns, other people angry about religion, other people angry that those people are angry about religion…and a few days later the storm clears and nothing has changed.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not apathetic to the situation. I’m used to it, but I’m sick of it, and I’m completely confused as to what my role is in making a difference in it. I’m just unsure how to help, since the people we elected refuse to act in a united way or in the interest of their constituents.

I follow someone named Igor Volsky on Twitter. He works for ThinkProgress, an admittedly liberal news source. You may have heard of him by now. Since the San Bernardino shooting, Igor has been calling out members of the government who have voted against gun control measures and/or taken campaign donations from the NRA. The votes and the finances are all factual, publicly-available figures.

He also trashed those same politicians for sending default, “thoughts and prayers” tweets after the San Bernardino incident. In my opinion, if prayer works for you, praying extra hard for victims and their families and an end to the violence is noble. It’s appreciated. But tangibly, it accomplishes nothing. The proof of that is in the fact that so many people think and pray after every single horrific massacre, yet another mass shooting occurs the very next day. That was Igor’s point, and it’s an important one.

I mean, surely there have never been more people praying for peace at one given time than after children were murdered in Newtown in 2012. Regardless of the god you pray to, he or she clearly did not listen because we’re still asking for mercy three years later.

But many of those people thinking and praying for victims and begging some higher power to put an end to this violent American epidemic are regular people like you and me. So, really, it’s nice. It’s comforting to think that so many millions of people who realize they can’t do much more than pray, think or harass their local representatives, actually do a couple of those things; or at the very least, remind others to do so.

My issues lie with the people who have the power to make an actual, physical, legal difference (I would say regular citizens have that power through mass protest too, but when 80 percent of Americans support stricter gun regulations and related bills still get destroyed by the GOP, well…would politicians actually take that protest seriously, or just lock their doors and turn the TV volume up to drown out the chants?).

It’s been this way for years. President Obama, though he says all the right things and wears his anger on his sleeve, hasn’t been able to make a real difference. The pro-gun control Democrats haven’t been able to do much, and there doesn’t seem to be an honest sense of urgency to fix that stagnancy. The largely NRA-backed Republicans have spent more time touting the 2nd Amendment and coming up with alternative theories for gun violence than actually trying to find a solution they support. Neither side will budge to help the other and answer the calls of the millions of people they were elected to represent, because that would be like me, a Dodgers fan, admitting that the Giants are good at baseball. The political dance between the two major parties is like watching male lions locked in a never ending fight for dominance of the pride.

But the fact of the matter is that people on both sides want change. Nobody wants people shooting other people for any reason other than in self-defense. Except for the people that do want to terrorize – maybe they want to shoot other people for fun or to send a political or religious message. Maybe they’re just insane. Either way, there are plenty of steps that can be taken to ensure guns are harder to get, buyers are vetted more thoroughly, and the weapons for sale are limited to those of the hunting and self-protection variety, so the rare human who thinks killing people is okay can’t so easily access what they want.

It is not an infringement on your rights as an American citizen to make guns more difficult to access. Australian comedian Jim Jeffries (surely you’ve seen his stand-up act by now?) is hilarious, but also completely, 100 percent correct in saying, “Yes you can [change the 2nd Amendment]. It’s called an ‘AMENDMENT.’” We’ve amended the Constitution many times in the past, and we probably will again in the future, but for some reason that argument is clung to tighter than a child clings to its teddy bear when the bedroom light goes off.

Speaking of Australia, the fact is that their government heavily restricted guns after the country’s worst-ever mass shooting in 1996 and they lived happily ever after. It’s not a perfect parallel to the United States because it’s a completely different country with a different culture of people, but ignoring the success of such drastic action (not to mention the way the rest of the civilized world has blown away America in this category) is foolish. It’s irresponsible. It’s evil. And the NRA, the politicians they fund, President Obama and every member of Congress know it. Yet for some reason, be it pride, money, religious beliefs or something else entirely, the wishes of the majority of voters those people represent are still not being granted.

Watching this government operate is like the boss I had at an internship right after college who sat down to meet with us every week, promising to hear our input and put changes intended to improve the workplace environment into motion. He got our feedback, promptly ignored it every time and kept cashing in his checks for running a profitable, but miserable business. Can’t these petty children dressed in suits in Washington D.C. get together, ignore the next-term campaigning, fortune-stuffing fundraising and unnecessary dick-measuring for two seconds and actually try to lead America away from the bad and towards something good?

On a related note, as if the politicians who took us on a few fancy dates, said “I love you,” and then started ignoring our texts before disappearing completely weren’t bad enough, the media is also butting heads and influencing voters in a way that allows politicians to justify their selfish stances as “in their peoples’ interest.” I’m well aware that most news outlets lean liberal or conservative. It’s unfortunate, but I get it. It’s when crap like this is broadcast to millions of impressionable people that I get frustrated. Look no further than the headline, which implies that if you don’t utilize prayer to fight gun violence, you’re on the terrorists’ side – the same terrorists who, in many cases, terrorize in the name of religion? Okay. Rock-solid logic there. Not that journalistic integrity really exists anymore anyway.

I have a tendency to ramble when I write, so let’s bring this all back to a final point now. This is supposed to be a blog about traveling after all. On my trip this summer, I met hundreds of people from all over the world. I experienced cultures that varied from the cheery Aussies to the peaceful Icelandic to the hang-tough Filipinos to the devoted Moroccans. I discussed life and love, exploration and economics, people and politics.

There were many memorable, important things I learned in those conversations. One that stands out — and excuse the language but it’s necessary for emphasis — is that the United States is not that fucking special. People across the world aren’t split into two camps of loving or loathing Americans. Most straddle the middle of not giving a shit, besides that we’re America and we have political and financial influence over the rest of the world. Oh, and our music and movies. They like those too.

Point being, whenever I spoke about gun control specifically, locals and travelers alike reacted with disbelief at the ancient system still presiding over the most advanced country in the world. Unanimously, they showed confusion about it all. They don’t understand why we kill each other so often, why our police forces shoot the citizens they’re supposed to protect, and why the government sits around letting it happen. So how do you expect anyone to love or loathe America? We condemn “violent countries,” and broadcast travel warnings to our citizens about the dangers of visiting other countries – yet now, America is the country getting called out. About damn time. From a distance, we are simply a spectacle; a bunch of people in a brawl outside a bar, while the rest of the world sends Snapchats of the fight from the other side of the street, with the caption, “WTF lol!” They watch for a moment, shake their head, and head home for the night.

Truth be told, I felt safer in a lot of foreign countries. Places like Morocco and Malaysia and Slovenia were unfamiliar and uncomfortable at times, but I never feared for my life. The same can’t be said about home anymore. I think about shootings all the time now, because it’s unavoidable. I don’t want to think about something so unpleasant, but it’s a part of daily life. When someone asks me to go to a movie now, I think, “Is that going to be worth seeing?” Coming in at a close second, “Is it going to be worth the risk?”

And that’s ridiculous. Why should I have to worry about that? I can’t (and don’t) let that dictate my daily life, but the thought is always there, looming. It’s just natural to have a planned escape route now, like where to stand during an earthquake or how to stop, drop and roll in a fire. And if you think I’m overreacting, you’re wrong – why shouldn’t I think about this stuff? It’s not like there isn’t a little bit of precedent to being nervous in an American movie theater, or hospital, or school, or church…

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” Yeah, and microwaves don’t heat food. Watches don’t tell time, keys don’t open locks and pianos don’t play music. You’ll notice that I’ve bolded the word “fact” (or variations of it) in here a few times. That’s because, despite all their shortcomings, this isn’t all on the government. They’re not the ones pulling the triggers, they just enable it to happen. We, the regular people, are also part of the problem when we embroil ourselves in these pointless arguments about syntax and vague comparisons and hypotheticals. There are plenty of facts out there – real, historical, scientific data and reasoning. It’s a waste of time to ignore the facts and not use them as the sole decision-makers in this process. And we don’t have much time to waste – there will probably be another mass shooting by the time you go to bed tonight.

I wrote this after Newtown, and much of it still stands true. Here we are, six months after gunfire interrupted a prayer session at a church, which was three years after Newtown, six years after an armed member of the military wreaked havoc on his own base, eight years after a gunman sprayed bullets at a mall, which was 16 years after Columbine. We’re still here. The only thing that has changed is that we’re less shocked by it.

Sensible gun control measures won’t hurt. They can’t hurt any more than what we deal with now. The problem is that people can, and do, shoot each other. That does hurt, and will continue to hurt as long as we let it happen. The solution is simple: make the active shooter situation less likely to occur. Like wearing a seatbelt in the car, it’s just pure logic. Worst-case scenario? Shooting violence continues at a high rate in America, and we have to try something else. It’s better than what we’re doing now. It’s better than nothing. We’d be crazy not to try.

Here’s to hoping the bosses we elected to run this place actually step up and earn their keep. And while we’re thinking and praying that it finally happens, let’s play our part – drop the rhetoric, stick to the facts, and help end the cycle.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Harriet says:

    You are brilliant!! I so enjoy reading what you write. Keep up the good work. I only wish it would get to someone that would read it and do SOMETHING!!! Thanks again!!


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