Nineteen children were killed in a mass shooting in Texas. I have barely escaped the pandemonium of the pediatric emergency department to scarf down a bowl of pasta when I hear the announcement on the breakroom TV. My stomach drops. Again? How is it possible?
I step back into the ED and immediately am called over by an agitated mother whose infant came in with respiratory distress 30 minutes earlier. Any moment they would be transferred to the intensive care unit – I hurry over, worried a crisis with her infant awaits me.
She wants to talk about the shooting. In despair, she asks how she can send her other child to kindergarten the next day.
“It’s not safe,” she says, clutching her sick infant to her chest. I let the irony of the moment sink in. Of all the things this mother must worry about, whether her children will be murdered at school should not be among them.
The lack of gun control legislation in the U.S. is criminal. The increasing frequency of mass shootings and the tragic death count has long established this as a public health emergency.
Mass shootings in the U.S., defined as when four or more victims are shot or killed, are rising. The numbers are unfathomable. According to the Gun Violence Archive, in 2022 alone, there were 212 mass shootings. Twenty-seven of these were school shootings. In the past decade, each year has tallied more shootings than days in the year with an ever-increasing rise. 2021 recorded 693 mass shootings, surpassing the 611 in 2020 and the 417 in 2019. Without gun control improvements, we can expect that 2022 will prove the deadliest year yet.
The main culprit in the lack of gun control legislation lies with the Senate’s filibuster power to block national policy, as it is based on the votes of individual states rather than the majority vote. There is, in fact, a majority consensus in America in favor of gun-control measures such as universal background checks and assault-weapon bans. However, the disproportionate power of small Republican states was made clear in 2013, after the Sandy Hook shooting, when the Senate blocked the bill imposing background checks on gun sales despite representing a minority opinion. To prevent future stalemates in the Senate, the filibuster must be addressed.
The deep underpinnings of gun ownership in America must be understood in the historical context of the Second Amendment. The right to bear arms is inextricably intertwined with the idea of American freedom, and groups such as the NRA have pitted any efforts at gun control against this fundamental right. But at what point does this right infringe on the rights of indefensible children?
To be sure, eliminating guns in the U.S. is unlikely, so what next? Do we provide teachers with training and firearms? Augment school security? This would be futile against an automatic weapon or determined school shooter. Gun control is by no means a cure-all to gun violence, but it has reduced death rates in countries such as Japan, the U.K., and Australia. It is a start that must be taken.
Passing gun control laws will not be easy. To reform the filibuster power the Senate holds will require fighting legal, political, social, and ideological barriers. And yet it must be done. With each new headline of a shooting, it feels as though America has found its emotional breaking point. Surely this will be the news story that tips legislation. Let us not become numb to the rising body counts. We can be bystanders no longer.
Marina Mai is a medical student.
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