** Editor’s update: For more on the nightclub shooting in Orlando, please click here. **
Did you wear orange today?
If not, perhaps like me, you didn’t know that today was Gun Violence Awareness Day. In fact, the month of June is Gun Violence Awareness Month.
In honor of this, a number of gun safety organizations are promoting a campaign to wear orange to show solidarity, raise awareness and advocate for gun safety laws.
However, thanks to the events of Wednesday, awareness is in ample supply. On the first day of Gun Violence Awareness Month, we had yet another shooting on a college campus. If that is not the definition of irony, I don’t know what is.
It seems the term awareness has become somewhat of a catch phrase. We seek awareness to widen our view, to expand our understanding, to educate. And yet, four years after the Sandy Hook shootings, I have to ask, to what end?
Unfortunately, Wednesday’s shooting on the campus of UCLA, which took the lives of a professor and the gunman, was not the only case of murder on the first day of June. According The Gun Violence Archive, on June first alone there were at least 96 gun-related deaths and injuries—and those are only the reports that are available to the general public, which means there were most likely many more.
It is estimated that 30,000 people lose their lives each year in America due to gun violence. On any average day, seven children and teens are killed by gunshot. America’s gun murder rate is more than 25 times the average of other developed countries.
These numbers should be overwhelming. But unfortunately, they’re not. It seems that as Americans, we have become numb to these statistics.
“If you can’t find the courage to stand up to the NRA after a classroom of kindergarteners gets killed …”
~ Ladd Everitt, Dir. of Comm. Coalition to Stop Gun Violence
It’s not for lack of trying. On January fifth of this year, President Obama announced an executive order on gun control measures. The usually cool POTUS became visibly distraught when discussing the 20 kindergarten children who lost their life in the mass shooting in Newtown, CT in December of 2012.
Twenty children, one gunman.
Immediately, the pundits and critics pounced, some calling it political theatre. However, polls reflect widespread bipartisan support (including support from gun owners themselves) for universal background checks. Unfortunately, it seems the majority of our representatives do not represent the majority of the people.
Gun violence prevention is a multi-faceted and complicated issue that requires thoughtful analysis and research. Yet in 1996, Congress passed an amendment that banned the CDC from dedicating federal funds “to advocate or promote gun control.”
How can we find answers if the questions are not permitted?
Some leaders are pushing back. In January, a group of democratic senators wrote a letter to the chairs of the Senate appropriations committee asking that a hearing be held to review the ban, in hopes that the CDC will be able to conduct research on the efficacy of gun violence prevention.
What good is awareness if it doesn’t lead to change?
I have struggled with this dichotomy in my own efforts at change and growth. On the one hand, I do believe that the only way to truly change the world is to work on my own stuff—to continue to take a personal moral inventory and open my heart to myself, thereby increasing my heart’s capacity to open to others. Empathy, compassion, non-judgment—these are the core essentials to truly create a kinder, gentler nation and world.
On the other hand, when faced with the consequences of our collective unconscious, it seems personal work is not enough. Dr. King’s awareness of racism fueled the civil rights movement; the suffragettes’ awareness of sexism led to women’s rights, and the rights of individuals to marry their same sex partner began in the 70s through legal action taken by individuals.
It takes more than awareness; it takes boots on the ground.
We face stark choices this November. The choice of both the President and our representatives will determine our course over the next four years and beyond.
If we the people truly want to reduce gun violence, awareness must lead to a stirring in the soul that moves us to become activists, to raise our voices so that they are not only heard, but acted upon by those who claim to represent us.
Update from PBS Facebook page. “President Obama stuck around after last night’s PBS NewsHour to answer more questions. Here’s his answer to a question about Second Amendment rights and gun control”:
Author: Roseann Pascale
Editor: Toby Isreal