Carl E Schulz
In the wake of a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and staff dead, Americans once again began the cyclical routine we have developed in response to these types of incidents: “Thoughts and prayers” tweets a United States Congressman. “Something should be done!” a mother from Ohio posts on Facebook. “When will this senseless violence end?” posts man to his coworkers the next day. Yet all of these rehashed platitudes reinforce one common undertone: Americans love school shootings.
Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms have experienced a broad expanding of their purpose over the last decade. What was once a way for nobodies to share their meaningless thoughts with their non-immediate circle of friends has become a revolutionary means for sharing breaking news, instant reactions, and, most importantly, the faux sympathy that we now instinctively gravitate towards in the wake of a national tragedy. The “thoughts and prayers” effect, as I like to call it, illustrates just how little Americans actually care about the kids murdered in their schools, the men, and women who die in mass shootings or any other person who is murdered (with any instrument) in this country.
Similar to the “thoughts and prayers” effect is the “something should be done” effect, which illustrates that, along with the fact that Americans do not care about tragedies, we still need to feel morally validated when pretending to feel empathy. In every instance of a school shooting cracking the mainstream media focus (because horrifying enough, there are dozens of school shootings that never dominate news coverage enough for hashtags to be created, and “thoughts and prayers” tweets to go out) we watch thousands of Americans reach for their smartphones or laptops to let everyone else know just how truly sad they feel for those poor, poor victims. Somehow, perhaps purely through coincidence, those tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram posts, Snapchat blurbs, or whatever other means of communication people are using these days, have failed to yield any real results in solving the issues we face as a nation.
This is not a gun control issue. This is not a mental health issue. This is a human morality issue. Posting on social media with fancy graphics created by hyperpartisan “news” outlets is not solving anything, nor is it helping, nor does it mean you are absolved from the blame. Hyperpartisanship is responsible for the lack of solutions to these issues. Instead of pointing fingers, blaming the other side (because politics has become a game of checkers where each party takes their turn capitalizing off of tragedy after tragedy just to yell “king me!” while standing on a mountain of dead kids they are responsible for killing) and thinking that a “call to action” is equivalent to action, why not actually have a discourse? Why not actually talk to someone and reach a common goal and try something, literally anything instead of letting these tragedies fade into the background? Because that’s too hard. Americans don’t like to think, or act, or change. We like to cling to doing the absolute bare minimum in every aspect of life, because since 9/11, we have decided that it is no longer worth it to feel genuine human emotion.
My theory is that, since nothing changed in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, nothing ever will. We turned on our TVs, sat through hours of coverage with pictures of dead toddlers on our screens, and did nothing. We heard about how these kids were murdered like enemies of the state with an assault-style weapon and we did nothing. And advocating for an assault weapons ban was not “doing something”. On that day, Americans decided once and for all to be complicit in every school shooting until a solution is implemented. The blood is on all of our hands. Whether you support gun control or not, whether you support increased mental health coverage or not, you are just as responsible for the death of every child in every school that is shot up in this country.
It’s uncomfortable to come to terms with it, I’m sure. But you (and when I say “you” I am speaking directly to you, the reader, as a part of the greater populace of Americans who are guilty of the behaviors described throughout this piece) are just as responsible for not finding a solution as any member of Congress is. Why? Because you’re not calling Congress. You’re not talking to people. And, based on the turnout in nationwide and statewide elections, there’s a high probability that you don’t vote. So you haven’t done anything of worth. Your Facebook posts are not helping. Your Tweets are not helping. You are not helping. You are doing the bare minimum to clear your own conscience and then resume your life as normal. Meanwhile, 17 kids and teachers lay dead in a Florida high school.
What you fail to understand is that the solutions that seem apparent are not the actual solutions. The solution or solutions will not become apparent until a nationwide discourse is held, where all viewpoints are expressed, a common goal is reached, legislation is implemented, and we begin to see if we took a step in the right direction. Doing something and failing is better than doing nothing and remaining a conscientious objector to the solution-finding process. There is no blanket solution to this, either. It will take years of discourse, research, trial and error, and ultimately dozens of attempts before something finally takes hold. Gun control is not the solution to this problem. It may not even be one of the potential solutions to this problem. Americans have come to terms with the fact that our guns, and the freedom to own them (a theoretical freedom for those of us who choose not to own guns) is more important than anything else. And that’s not me criticizing gun owners, or saying they’re more complicit in gun-related deaths, it is simply a fact of life and part of the American zeitgeist. There will never be a circumstance in which a majority of Americans willingly surrender their guns, nor will a majority of Americans ever support repealing the 2nd Amendment (which would be the only true way of getting rid of guns in America) nor will two-thirds of Congress ever support doing so. For better or for worse, guns will forever be intertwined with the American way of life. I’ll offer this as an aside: I personally believe that if guns are to be legal, we should have the highest possible standard of gun safety, training, and education, but banning guns only results in a government with guns and a citizenry without them. If that doesn’t sound like it’s heading in a bad direction, you may need to reexamine your faith in the government to do right by us.
Similarly, throwing money at expanded mental health coverage is not the solution to this issue. While it would likely help diminish the possibility of “red flags” going unnoticed, resulting in tragedies committed by the mentally ill, there is no definitive way to prevent homicidal people from committing crimes. Even if we were to institutionalize person who shows signs of mental health issues during their youth (which is, for obvious reasons, not a feasible solution) there will still be people who snap under the “perfect storm” of circumstances, and lives will still be lost. So instead of falling on your sword for mental health or gun control, work with other people to find the plethora of solutions necessary to work towards solving this issue.
Another point of note: this is a morally bankrupt nation. In the same vein of the “not actually caring about the victims of the tragedies” (the “thoughts and prayers” and “something should be done” effects) mindset is the fact that we like to cling to Christianity, or our own sense of morality, to further absolve us from responsibility vis-a-vis those tragedies. This is not a Christian nation. This is not a morally upstanding nation. Republicans do not care about mental health, Democrats do not care about guns, and none of us really care about the dead kids we see flashing across our screens. We care more about our guns, our sense of self-righteousness, ourselves and the immediate circle of people around us, than we do about other people.
Americans absolutely do not care about other Americans, especially ones they have never met. If the government asks for a tax increase to put towards mental health coverage for instance, the reflexive response is “don’t raise my taxes. Don’t touch my money. Don’t shove your socialism down my throat.” So what’s left to do? Nothing. If Americans cannot be convinced that it is worth it to care about other Americans, then there is nothing to be done. Dead kids are a statistic that we have all agreed to a trade-off in exchange for lower taxes by proxy.
So what solutions am I personally proposing? I can’t give you anything definitive or salient, because I don’t have the answers. I can tell you that I support increased gun education, better training with guns, background checks for gun purchases, and a different approach to the culture of guns, but that doesn’t solve the issue. I can tell you that I believe mental health coverage should be expanded to help anyone who needs it regardless of the cost. I can tell you that social media is a crutch for people who need validation and a pat on the back to feel like they “did something” in the wake of a tragedy. But that also doesn’t solve the issue. Here are a few suggestions at what I think sounds more like a solution than a million “thoughts and prayers” tweets combined:
- Register to vote.
- If you don’t know how to register to vote, Google it! You already have access to the internet if you use Twitter, Facebook, what have you.
■ If you don’t know how our political system works, Google that too. Reading doesn’t hurt.
- Learn who your representatives are.
- Google is your friend here as well. Each American citizen has two Senators that represent their state, one Congressional representative that hails from your Congressional district, one Governor, as well as State Representatives, local representatives, and plenty of other individuals who are elected to reflect your interests.
■ Make your interests known to those people by calling their offices and speaking to their staff. They are supposed to pass along your thoughts to the representatives. Call as many times as you want. If they don’t talk to you, make it a big deal and tell the local press.
■ Read about your representatives’ voting records (you’ll be shocked to find that what your representatives say they believe in usually differs from how they’re actually voting on legislation.)
■ Find out who is donating to their campaigns. This is publicly available information. If your representative is receiving tons of money from the NRA, don’t be surprised to find that they’re voting to preserve every gun right imaginable. Likewise, if your representative is receiving tons of money from banks, don’t be surprised to find that they’re not voting to regulate those banks the way they should be.
- Vote for the people who are proposing a real discourse or real solutions.
- If they don’t follow through on that discourse or those solutions, raise hell about it and vote them out. US Representatives are up for election every 2 years, Governors are up every 4 years, and Senators are up every 6 years. Learn what offices are up for election in your state. Elections are held every single year.
- Ultimately: Hold your representatives responsible.
All in all, just stop blaming each other. Stop pointing fingers. Stop reflexively voting for the party that you already align with because the other guys want to destroy the country. We’re all complicit in the deaths of students. I want to really drive that home, because I am part of the problem too. I know I haven’t done anything either. But this is our chance to either make a pivot and act with some actual gumption, or forever cement our reputation as the country that loves watching kids get murdered at school because it gives us another chance to use our limited social media reach to fall on our sword and look like a martyr. Stop looking for validation to act. Just act.
How silly would it be if people announced they were going to do the ordinary things they were already going to do before doing them? What if someone stood up and announced they were going to go to the bathroom before doing it? You shouldn’t need to do the same. Stop announcing that your thoughts and prayers with the victims. Stop demanding that something be done. Start actually doing something without needing a pat on the back from your 40 followers. You are not the one who needs attention in the wake of a national tragedy.
What if you saw your name and picture on television, along with the names and pictures of every other American, in the place of the person who actually pulled the trigger in a school shooting? Would you feel responsible? You are. You are because you refuse to act. Until we rid ourselves of our entitlement to our 15 minutes of fame, we will never actually achieve anything. This has to be the moment of truth for this nation. If we let this shooting pass without action, discourse, or attempts at making things better, we will be failing the next dozen kids to be murdered. And the dozen after them. And the dozen after them.
You are complicit in all of their deaths.