We’re used to mass shootings. It’s a fact that sounds inhuman to speak aloud, but one that we know is true each time we brew our morning coffee and the news is depicting another tragedy filled with bloodshed. In fact, it’s become a uniquely American ritual. Innocent lives will be lost, our leaders will drown us in empty platitudes and “thoughts and prayers”, and the news cycle will expunge the shooting from our memories within days. Of course, compassion and empathy are vital when coping with traumatic events. “Thoughts and prayers,” though, once a show of sympathy, has become anything but compassionate. Instead, it’s the smokescreen our leaders use to mask their disinterest with our mass shooting epidemic.
The current year has brought us around 500 mass shootings in the United States. What is more agonizing than that statistic is how it isn’t just a statistic. Each victim is
a son or daughter being buried by their parents, or a partner leaving an empty space in the bed they shared with their loved one. These shootings happen at a rate of more than once a day, yet we’ve become wholly desensitized to the violence. This is not our fault; it’s a reasonable shield against traumatic events.
Desensitization, however, is exactly what the most feckless leaders truly pray for. If we remain aloof as fellow citizens continue to die, then they can continue to evade responsibility, preach their violent dogma and collect their checks. We can only break this cycle through channeling our apathy into righteous anger, and recognizing that this is simply not normal.
In 2022, the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas led to the murders of 19 children and two teachers, following with a fiery demand for common sense gun reforms. Asked if he would support any changes to gun laws, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) responded “Most would probably throw me out of office.”
In this, he is not entirely wrong. Though Americans by and large demand gun reform, politicians continue to court those particularly on the right-wing with violent rhetoric and hysteria over imagined gun seizures and Second Amendment nullification. Employing these tactics, leaders can continue to gain votes from their incited constituents as they collect multi-million dollar donations from the National Rifle Association, or NRA. Just ask Sen. Cramer, the personal recipient of $13,255 from the NRA.
The inconvenient truth of American politics is the truth behind Sen. Cramer’s words. Our leaders are puppeteered by two strings; one borne of votes, and one of money. The NRA continues to be a behemoth in political spending, pumping around $19 million into lobbying and contributions in 2022. Any Republican politician that bucks the NRA platform of completely unfettered gun access risks access to these finances, spelling potential doom for their reelection prospects. The recent years, though, have brought worries to the NRA’s prospects of influence due to a litany of corruption scandals and declining membership. Filling the void are groups like Gun Owners of America, who take an ever further right-wing and uncompromising view on gun reform.
Self-reflection is lost on leaders who act as sheep of the gun lobby. A dead American can’t vote for them or donate to their campaign, so they fail to see the importance in ending the continuous slaughter. Instead, they simply rehearse the same “thoughts and prayers” script and hope their pantomime sympathy will help them avoid accountability. Solving this gun violence emergency will take calculated time, but the most immediate measure we can take is an unyielding pressure campaign against leaders who fail to meet the moment.
We are well past the moment for “thoughts and prayers” in the face of rising mass shootings. Stoking change from the bottom-up starts with ensuring the phrase is a death knell for these leader’s political prospects. Americans agree in a bipartisan manner on reasonable gun reform, despite what political and media leaders may preach, and Americans have a moral obligation to force our leaders to accept this truth be it through the ballot box or demonstrating in the streets. Unless we lead with direct action, we’ll continue offering our own “thoughts and prayers” to the ever crashing waves of dead Americans.