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Stop inserting gun narratives on tragedies

Colin Vanden Berg

Head Copy Editor

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like to speak very much. I get embarrassed when I feel I I’ve spoken out of turn, and I’m incredibly conscious of the effect my words have on others.

I do have a lot of thoughts though; and lately my fear of embarrassing myself has clashed with my overwhelming desire to scream at the top of my lungs at the mess of a world I that observe around me.

International Education Week

On Saturday, October 27, an armed gunman stormed into a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 Jewish worshipers including the relative a Holocaust survivor. Meanwhile, President Trump took a few sentences to condemn the shooter and offer condolences; while also taking every opportunity to shift blame away from violent rhetoric and gun violence, and on to the media.

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have never personally experienced gun violence, and to not know friends or family affected by domestic gun violence. I also have never owned—nor will ever own—any kind of gun. I do, however, know avid hunters, and recognize that I that I lack the knowledge, experience or courage to adequately address gun rights as subject of debate. I do, however, know when something happens which violates every principle that I’ve ever held dear. This is one of those instances.    

The first piece of media that I remember which addressed gun violence head-on was 1999’s “The Iron Giant.” I was about as old  the main character Hogarth when I first saw the film, and I remember being awed at the poignant simplicity of the message that “you don’t have to be a gun.” The film’s titular giant was a machine built explicitly for war, but its choice to not harm others was presented as more heroic than all the bad-guy-punching heroes I’d watched in cartoons to that point in my life. Imagine my alarm and disgust at discovering that people actually existed who would use weapons not for hunting or war (or even robbery), but strictly to kill and main other human beings.   

As I heard and read about mass-shooting after mass-shooting in 2017 and 2018, I found myself more and more sorrowful at the tragic events, and more and more outraged at how the political arena was reacting to these incidents of violence. Gun rights have been a political issue since before the Columbine High School massacre of 1999, but every time a mass shooting occurs politicians spend less time offering sympathy and support, and more time pushing an agenda. I tend to agree more often with advocates for gun control, but I wish I didn’t have to be thinking about gun laws for three straight weeks following every new tragedy.  

I’m not sure what the alternative would be, however.. If there’s a need for stricter gun laws in this country, maybe the best time for debate is after another madman uses a military-grade weapon to take many innocent lives. However, guns are such an obvious subject of conversation that a lot of other factors tend to get ignored. For instance, I’d love to see politicians actually begin funding mental health programs instead of just using the subject to deflect the conversation away from guns. Bigotry and education are other concerns, too, especially in instances like the Saturday’s willful targeting of Jewish citizens. Truly, none of these conversations are as productive in the immediate aftermath of violence as caring for the survivors; however, talking about guns at a time like this just makes me sad.

Certainly, all the aforementioned issues are worthy of healthy discussion and debate. It’s just that I’m tired of people in power politicizing tragedy. It’s been going on since the 9/11 ‘truthers,’ and it distracts from the opportunity for reflection and healing that these events should inspire.

The Jewish community of  Pittsburgh is so insulted by the President’s apparent lack of empathy and penchant for political opportunism that they have spoken out against his planned visit on Tuesday, October 30. Incidents such as this should unite, not divide; which is why this  Gentile is in proud agreement with—and support of—the Jewish people of Pittsburgh.