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Editorial: The price of national fear

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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President Obama has begun a potentially fruitless attempt to reform nationwide gun-control laws following the aftermath of the devastating mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in which nine lives were taken by a single gunman. This will be the second time for the president to attempt to push such an agenda following a tragedy, the first being the horrific 2012 shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in which 20 children and six adults were killed.

The president admits that Congress will be, if anything, reluctant to enact any substantial measures in terms of curbing the firearm epidemic that plagues the country, citing Congress’ distinct lack of meaningful action following the Sandy Hook shooting.

While the president’s efforts to reform our country’s gun-control laws are certainly a necessity, a change in legislation alone will only address the symptoms of a much larger disease. The disease that riddles this country is fear, a fear so deeply ingrained in our subconscious we have ceased to register it in our daily lives.

It has become a part of how we as a society perceive the world and each other.

The most explicit symptom of this disease has become gun violence because it is arguably the most tangible and visceral extension of fear. Death in its certainty and irrevocable nature has a way of dispelling any contemplation about the existence of injustice in the world.

We can debate motivations, perspectives, and ideologies, but death is indisputable. For that reason alone, it is the primary vessel through which fear spreads. Can you remember the last time you turned on the news and the breaking story wasn’t covering a shooting?

A few days ago, Obama took to Twitter to make a disheartening observation about this country’s rampant gun violence in comparison with other countries. The tweet simply said, “Per population, we kill each other more with guns at a rate 297 times more than Japan, 49 times more than France, 33 times more than Israel.”

Not only are these statistics frightening, they refer to an issue that extends further than legislation. Human beings are not bound to the words they put on paper. A law is meant to outline ideal behavior, and this is because words alone cannot mandate behavior. Our fear runs too deep to be solved by ink on paper.

Surely the thoughts that lead people to kill each other exist in other countries, so why the extreme disparities gun violence in this country versus others?

The answer lies in the common rhetoric of pro-gun advocates and even the Second Amendment. We have developed this notion that we are in a constant state of danger that requires hyper-vigilance and caution at every waking moment. The argument is frequently made that if guns are made harder to get, the good, upstanding members of society won’t be able to defend themselves from the bad guys. But who are these bad guys?

We live in a country that incubates fear, distrust, and animosity toward complete strangers. We are told at every corner that somebody is waiting in the bushes to do horrible things to us, and as a result, perpetual fear has become our default setting. This fear clouds our judgment and skews our perception of the world. We have become afraid of Middle Eastern people on airplanes, black men wearing hoodies, and now white males in our schools and churches.

The truth is that there is evil in the world. However, a generally frightened population overly saturated with instruments of death only exacerbates the situation. The problem is not gun-control laws. The problem is that we live in a society in which people are more open to the idea of killing one another than they are to actually trying to understand one another.


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