Increasing Acts of Public Violence Warrant Reform

After a week of six brutally violent acts committed in public forums across the nation, my mind has been plagued with issues of public safety and gun control.

This month has been horrific for the United States. The week of Feb. 8-14 began with a university shooting in Louisiana, a shooting/stabbing in an elementary school in Ohio and a shooting at a Missouri council meeting – all on the same day – resulting in 10 deaths. Later in the week, two minors were shot in schools in Tennessee and California, leaving a 14-year-old brain-dead. Then, to cap off the week, a former Northern Illinois graduate student killed six people and then himself in a lecture hall.

It is time to stop sidestepping these issues. With more than 30,000 gun deaths every year and mass killings becoming more frequent, timeworn views on gun control and public safety are no longer sufficient. The flawed premises on which these views are based must be rebuilt.

Premise No. 1: The Political Avoidance DanceA politician’s job is to please the people. Therefore, it is no surprise that politicians often cater to large lobbyist groups composed of many powerful people.

The Center for Responsive Politics reported that in 2007, political spending on gun rights lobbying totaled $1.95 million, about 3 1/2 times that of gun control lobbying.

The desire to balance the demands of different lobbyists, uphold Second Amendment rights and maintain a distinct political stance is tricky, making it easy for politicians to revert into wishy-washy posturing about gun control and public safety.

On Tuesday, Boston Globe reporter Derrick Jackson said that Democratic presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama address gun control only “when pressed, such as in debate or town hall or by news too horrific to ignore,” like the recent string of shootings.

“It is clear from their Web sites that both would prefer to be under the radar,” he said, noting that Clinton’s Web site contains no information on gun control and that Obama’s merely references his plan for sportsmen, which includes “protecting gun rights.”

“As Clinton talks realism and Obama talks common sense, the senseless killings continue, aided tremendously by the American access to guns,” Jackson said. “It is fine to be on the side of sportsmen. It is also time to show presidential leadership in protecting the American people at the mall, town hall and school.”

I am not trying to assert that only Democrats can be criticized for their policies on gun control. Republican politicians are faulted on their policies too, such as promoting less-strict gun control laws and affiliating themselves with firearms rights groups.

However, Jackson’s assertion that it is time for people in power to step up and take a real stance on the issue is valid. Candidates from all parties need to stop tiptoeing around gun control, do their jobs and use their authority to rally for policy change for the sake of the American people. Old political staples such as supporting pre-gun sale screening and opposing the sale of unnecessarily harmful weapons are givens. What is next?

Premise No. 2: The Campus Safety BubbleThere is a widely held assumption that certain public spaces are “safe zones.” Whether or not it is a conscious practice, people regard schools, government buildings, churches and everyday places like grocery stores as protected, though they are not.

For many people, last week’s shootings sparked debate over how vulnerable public spaces – specifically schools – really are.

David McGrath, an emeritus professor at the College of DuPage, painted an eerie scenario in an editorial for the Chicago Tribune.

“Thirty-nine students attend my American literature seminar this semester . . . If a psychotic gunman were searching for a tight cluster of multiple bodies . . . he would find my classroom door wide open,” he said. “He could assume a position straddling the threshold and blocking the exit, so that he could fire at the trapped students at will, reload his weapon and fire once again. We would be sitting ducks in yet another American schoolhouse tragedy.”

This scene could just have easily been set in one of many USF classrooms. While the thought of metal detectors in doorways and students carrying entry keys to get to class is not pleasant, neither is the thought that anybody can enter almost any classroom or lecture hall at any time. No one wants to live in a police state, but no one wants to be one of McGrath’s “sitting ducks” either. So what can be done?

McGrath suggested that institutions do not demand instructors get trained to use firearms, but rather implement “a voluntary program for willing, able and properly trained school personnel to carry weapons.” He said that while he hopes they would not have to use them, the news of a school shooter being stopped by an armed professor “may lead to a subsequent, precipitous decline in school shootings.”

“The rash of cold-blooded serial killings on campuses is now less an anomaly than a wave of terror,” he said. “It demands new initiatives to safeguard the lives of people seeking a college education.”

McGrath’s proposal may or may not be a solution, but I certainly like the idea of searching for new ways to protect students and the public.

Premise No. 3: The Violence-Saturated CultureOf course, the major hitch in the effort to decrease violent crime and increase public safety is that American culture is steeped in violence. Movies, music, news, advertising – everything people see and hear on a daily basis -includes violent imagery and language, often in glamorized and exploitative ways.

On Sunday, a columnist for the Ann Arbor News explored the complex reasons for deeply troubling events like those of last week.

“From the disconnect that some students feel, to the poverty and despair of their upbringing, to the glamorization of violence in our society, there’s no simple way to deal with (the roots of violence). Our country will be struggling with this for years – if not decades – to come.”

The reporter aptly noted that simply adjusting gun control laws, crime penalties and safety measures will not undo the damage being inflicted on people from the multitude of sources which turn them to violence. The problem runs much deeper.

“Our nation must tackle the underlying factors that are causing young people to turn to violence before they pick up a gun and act out,” the columnist said.

So, what is happening with public safety in America and what can be done to preserve it? Why is it that attacking people in public forums has become popular and chic among the mentally unhinged? I don’t know. But figuring it out starts by re-evaluating the dense nature of how violence is treated and used in this country.

Renee Sessions is a senior majoring creative writing.