This question came from my 3 year old nephew not too long ago. I wasn’t in the vicinity when he asked it, so I didn’t hear it, though I can hear his voice. As I first began to write this post, I was an hour away in Seattle, sitting in a coffeeshop and trying not to cry as I thought things over. What exactly should make me so proud of this country in which a 3-year-old even has to ask this question? Then again, this is the United States – the right to bear arms is a national right – albeit one that seems to be challenged in some states depending on the color of your skin and the context in which you bear said arm, even if you have all the legalities of ownership in order.
I had originally intended to write this article about child soldiers to some degree, or a post-Trayvon Martin reflection on gun violence. I’ll likely get around to that eventually. But unfortunately, there has come a turn of events which has altered my interest on this particular topic.
Recently in Seattle — my hometown, the city in which I’ve grown up; the place I will always love coming back to –whatever peace and security in which most (many, but not all, as a friend so succinctly stated) were living, has been shattered by bullets. There had been a number of events which unsettled people, but then came a day with multiple shootings which truly made us all take notice:
5 people were shot in one day.
I know, I know – this isn’t Camden, New Jersey (highest murder rate in the country); nor is it enough to warrant the bat of an eye in Syria these days – but this is Seattle. Though some commentators stated that for a city Seattle’s size, our homicide rate is remarkably low, this is a drastic shift from the way things have been up until now.
Wednesday’s shootings were the latest incidents in a string of violence that has plagued the Seattle and led some city leaders to openly question whether police are doing enough. Twenty people have been killed in Seattle so far this year with only seven arrests made, not counting two cases that were cleared.
Last year, the city saw 20 homicide cases. In 2010, there were 19 cases.
That is to say, this year – barely halfway through it – we have seen as many homicide cases as there were for the entire year for not just last year, but the year before.
No, I’m not going to open up the Pandora’s box of arguments on no guns at all – I’m an optimist, sure; but I’m not naive. However, I am concerned that a man who in retrospect some say, it was clear that he was mentally unstable, was able to legally acquire a gun. I’m also concerned that, as was eloquently pointed out by a social worker in a post on The Slog, blog of Seattle’s popular weekly newspaper:
The big picture here is that our society does not care about the mentally ill or the people who dedicate their whole lives to working to help stabilize them. The only time we even talk about mental illness is when horrible things like this happen. And that’s a huge problem. Because more social workers and bigger budgets alone won’t solve this. We have to change the way our society thinks of and treats people with mental illness, and make effective, humane treatment a real priority.
I don’t really have a solution to give for this. The big thing I take away from this tragedy is that it’s a prime example of how the issues which plague our society, our communities, are usually more than just as they may appear on the surface. If we choose to ignore that and steamroller ahead with addressing the immediate issues (granted, which need to be addressed) but at the expense of not examining the further issues, then I fear that we are simply setting ourselves up for other such events down the line – maybe not this particular kind of one (I certainly hope not), but given the way history seems to flow, I cannot say that I would be surprised at all.
That said, I feel that we — in the world, but also as Americans — find ourselves in a unique position these days. May we honor the memories of those who have died by pledging to work for a better future.
Links specifically pertaining to incidents of recent gun violence in Seattle
- An innocent bystander is killed by a gunshot at Seattle’s Folklife music festival (Memorial Day weekend, 2012)
- A Seattle father is killed in the crossfire in a random dispute between two other individuals (5/24/12)
- A 21-year-old woman died from her injuries after being shot in a random drive by in Pioneer Square (4/22/12)
- Suspect gunman dies in hospital after 5 fatally shot in Seattle (5/30/12)
Further links on Seattle & gun violence
- Police leaders blame ‘prevalence of guns’ for recent Seattle violence
- More gun violence shakes a worried city (Seattle Times)
- Seattle shootings: day of horror, grief in a shaken city (Seattle Times)
- Community asked to step up to prevent violence (Seattle Times)
Other articles on gun violence in the United States:
- ‘The Hidden Life of Guns‘ (Washington Post)
- Industry Pressure Hides Guns Traces, Protects Dealers From Public Scrutiny (Washington Post)
- 30 Years after the Reagan Shooting, Gun Violence Still Reigns (Washington Post)
- The NRA’s Electoral Influence (Washington Post)