Being on a campus in the United States, whether grade school or middle school or high school or college, seems to be increasingly a roll of the dice. When will your campus finally be visited by gunfire? Will it be when you’re attending or working there or after you graduate/leave? Will it be decades in the future or tomorrow? It may technically be hyperbole, but given how frequently we have mass shootings in the United States—and we’re galactically far and away the leading nation in that area—it feels like every campus will one day be home to a shooting. And, of course, campuses are far from the only places our mass shootings proliferate.
My use of the term “roll of the dice” might lead you to the conclusion that the inspiration for this post is the fatal shooting of three faculty members at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) this week. You’d be right. But it’s not amusing gambling-related wordplay I’m going for because it happened in Vegas. I truly feel like we’ve given up on the gun problem and are literally willing to gamble the lives of people in general—and students in particular—because of the Second Amendment.
Yes, yes, it was “only” three people who were killed by the UNLV shooter. Hardly the carnage of, say, the sniper who roughly six years ago killed more than 50 people and injured hundreds of others at an outdoor concert—on the Las Vegas Strip. Yes, the deadliest mass shooting in American history happened right nearby and barely over half a decade earlier.
We have a problem in this country, and it’s an addiction to the idea that gun rights and gun control are mutually exclusive. That somehow, it’s an either/or argument. It’s not true though. We had an assault weapons ban for years and as soon as Republicans made sure it went away, mass shootings increased and have continued to increase as a problem in America—to the point that we just move on after brief news coverage and wait for the next shooting.
And yes, this killer not only “merely” killed three people but also used a pistol, not an assault weapon. Well, it doesn’t change the fact that not only do we let people have types of guns that should only be in the hands of the military, but we’re awfully cavalier about how many people (and of what moral and psychological character) we let have any guns at all. We’re too willing to let domestic abusers be armed even though that’s one of the surest ways for women to die in their homes. We let people buy and sell guns at gun shows without requiring background checks. And so on and so forth.
When we talk about stricter laws and rules around gun ownership, people want to say it’s our constitutional right to have them. So what? It’s our constitutional right to have free speech but the government can still convict you for perjury. Rights do not mean there aren’t limits.
People don’t need assault weapons. They don’t need huge arsenals. Some people shouldn’t have guns at all. The Second Amendment protects a right to bear arms but it doesn’t say we can have any weapon that exists. I shouldn’t have a rocket launcher and neither should you. Also, let’s not forget that “well-regulated militia” part that every Republican ignores. The Second Amendment isn’t some holy text telling us gun are sacred and untouchable. Look, I have zero problems with guns in general. Responsible ownership, reasonable numbers of them, and training to use them. I have tons of issues, though, with the way we just pretend like the proliferation of guns in this country isn’t a deadly problem that is in need of resolution. That resolution is better control of guns. Not banning of them. Not elimination of them. Better control. We have plenty of controls and rules regarding vehicles and lots of other dangerous things in life. We need more of them for guns, too—before we end up with more campuses having been the site of a shooting than not.
I wish I could stop there, but there’s another elephant in the room I want to address about this shooting, and that is something that hasn’t been highlighted in most of the coverage I’ve seen: Every one of the dead professors was a person of color. Patricia Navarro-Velez. Cha-Jan “Jerry” Chang. Naoko Takemaru.
It could be coincidence. The shooter, Anthony Polito, was clearly disturbed, having a “target list” of faculty at UNLV and elsewhere and being consumed with various conspiracy theories, not to mention having been denied a faculty position at UNLV, which I’m guessing triggered this shooting.
So far, I haven’t heard of anything specifically racial or racist in any of his writings online. But regardless of whether he targeted his victims because they were non-white or not, the fact that he is white and they were not brings up an important point in my arguments here against our rampant gun culture here in the United States. White men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators in these kinds of shootings. Far and away. And white men tend to have a strong sense of entitlement. The reason we still have a largely male-controlled, white supremacist system is because white men, in the grand scheme, feel like they deserve the power, the money, the access, the consideration, the deference.
When you combine the racial and gender entitlement attitude with incredibly easy access to firearms, especially assault weapons, you only fuel gun violence. Not all men are violent or awful. But almost all the mass shooters are men—and almost always white men. Let’s not ignore that. There are exceptions, but they are few and far between. Until we confront the issues of white male entitlement and privilege and our lackadaisical attitude toward firearms in this country, we will see more shootings like this, worse shootings than this—more often and in more and more spaces. Let’s start getting to the roots of the problem, shall we?
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