Baseball, apple pie and guns: A quintessentially American problem



Matthew Sheridan

The United States of America: baseball, apple pie and shootings. 

And not just any shootings, mind you, but mass, public shootings conducted as a means of sadistic one-upmanship by an ever-expanding population of armed men looking to gain headlines and increase drama with each act of terror.

All the while, our nation sits idly by, feeling outrage for a day or two before forgetting quickly and moving on, as politicians too shortsighted to protect their own people and lobbyists too immoral to care wait around for the next major shooting to happen.

In a sense, though, who could blame Americans for not sustaining their anger? It happens too often. Eventually we just grow numb, and a week of pain turns into a day, which turns into a couple hours, which turns into reading a tweet and thinking to ourselves, “Oh. Again.”

People of our age grew up with a synonym for acts like this: “Columbine.” This one-word title for the Colorado high school upon which two students opened fire in 1999, killing 12 of their classmates and one of their teachers before turning the gun on themselves, had become the symbol for mass shootings of this horrific nature.

Now? There’s too many to count. Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois, Fort Hood, Tuscon, Aurora and many others. Charleston, Lafayette, Moneta, in the last eight months alone. The point is clear: these keep happening and are going to keep happening, because nobody in our country is going to do anything about them.

It doesn’t have to be this way, however. In 1996, a gunman killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Australia. It was their national massacre—their Columbine or Virginia Tech. In response, they did something about it. Just seven weeks into office, conservative Prime Minister John Howard and a moderate government chose to work to address the issues. The Australian government passed the National Firearms Agreement, banning semi-automatic and automatic rifles and pump action shotguns. They also conducted a massive gun buyback program, buying back more than 640,000 guns from Australians. 

Howard was not met without opposition—his party lost votes in the next election, and he even had to wear a bulletproof vest to a speech he gave in rural Australia—but it was something he felt he had to do regardless of the political ramifications. Australia doesn’t have as powerful of a gun lobby as the United States does with the National Rifle Association and doesn’t have a Bill of Rights protecting guns, so the reforms were undoubtedly passed more easily than they would be here. The point is, though, Howard and his fellow politicians recognized the problem and did their best to prevent it from happening again.

Since Howard’s measures were enacted in 1996, studies from the Australian National University have shown that gun-related deaths in Australia have dropped drastically and mass shootings are extremely uncommon.

In December 2012, a lone gunman in Newtown, Conn. killed his mother then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot and killed 20 children and six staff members. After the horrific shooting, our country mourned the loss of the children and support for gun control legislation was common. President Obama even proposed a set of legislation meant to pull off a Howard-esque reversal of the nation’s gun policy.

None of it passed. 

Not even a bill mandating simple background checks on people purchasing guns. Less than two years prior to this, Congress had one of its own members shot, when Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat from Arizona, was shot in the head (though she miraculously survived) at a public event in her home state. Twenty children were also gunned down  during school. They were dropped off by their parents that morning and could never be picked up again. Yet Congress still failed to do a thing about it.

That is why, when nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. are murdered by a white supremacist with a gun, and when a little over a month later a man pulls a gun during a showing of Amy Schumer’s summer hit “Trainwreck” in a movie theater in Lafayette, La., killing two and injuring nine and when a little over a month later two journalists are shot and killed on live T.V. during a local news broadcast in Moneta, Va., we aren’t surprised anymore.

We’re saddened by the senseless loss of lives. We’re angered at the disrespectful, gross way in which our government has actively neglected attempts at preventing it. We’re scared by inevitability of the next shooting and our inability to know when it’s coming. But one thing we’re not is surprised.

Proponents of gun rights often list a myriad of reasons as to why guns are not at all culpable for these massacres. To an extent, they have a point. Some shooters are driven by race, mental illness or the influence of popular culture. However, with guns involved in each case, it’s foolish to clear completely firearms of blame. “The fundamental problem was the ready availability of high-powered weapons, which enabled people to convert their murderous impulses into mass killings,” Howard wrote in a New York Times op-ed in 2013. “Certainly, shortcomings in treating mental illnesses and the harmful influence of violent video games and movies may have played a role. But nothing trumps easy access to a gun. It is easier to kill 10 people with a gun than with a knife.” They are all shooters.

In response to the Isla Vista shooting of 2014, in which a gunman opened fire on his fellow college students at the University of California-Santa Barbara, killing seven and injuring seven, the satirical website “The Onion” ran a headline which said, “’No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

“The Onion,” pathetically, is the voice of reason here. That’s always the rhetoric in response to calls for more gun control—these are “madmen” who “can’t be controlled,” and all the other reasons are listed again. They seem to be controlled in other nations, though.

According to United Nations data, the United States has 42 percent of the 644 million civilian-owned guns in the world, even though we only have 4 percent of the world’s population. Correspondingly, as of 2012 the United States led the developed world with 29.7 homicides by firearm per one million people. The next closest is Switzerland, with 7.7. There are shootings aimed at more than four people (the parameters for mass shootings on the crowd-sourced Mass Shooting Tracker) almost every day in the United States, not to mention the public ones that gain news traction seemingly once a month.

“At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries,” President Obama told reporters after the Charleston shooting.

We won’t though. It didn’t happen after students of all ages were shot. It didn’t happen after our elected officials were shot. It didn’t happen when people were shot in a community center or in a church or in a movie theater. So it won’t happen anytime soon, something that is disrespectful, shameful and above all, American.