Graphic by Michelle Chen, online editor.

Editorial: Be aware. Say Something. Act.

Whatever you do, don't give into the feeling of helplessness

October 26, 2017

The beat of music. The cheers and screams of the crowd. Then, the first round of gunshots. And then, different kind of screams: terrified, panicked screams. Then, groans of pain, disguised by the relentless tat-tat-tat-tat-tat of the rifles firing down into the crowd. And then, ten minutes later: silence.

In the wake of the massacre at Las Vegas, a disoriented public has scrambled to piece together a morbid puzzle, the likes of which one is never prepared to encounter. The officers and criminologists tasked with investigating the scene have uncovered little to no evidence that would indicate mental instability of any sort on behalf of the shooter. It is typical of human nature that when a crime fails to fit our discernible and patterned diagnoses — with the perpetrator a single, middle-aged male with a history of substance abuse and schizophrenia — we panic. We forget that there are things we can do in our lives, whether it is advocating for the Second Amendment or working to reduce stigma and stereotyping, to prevent incidents like this. We start to ask one question over and over: Why?

We have created ideas and preconceived notions about what a typical shooter is. Take the nameless shooter from ‘Evan,’ the video shown for Say Something Week. He is depicted as always lurking in the background, being isolated from his peers and pushing everyone away from himself. This stereotype ostracizes people like the nameless shooter, depicting them as unstable and unsafe. This is a faulty notion: Not all mass shooters are so-called “loners.”

We must realize that if we continue to categorize those students as loners, outcasts or malignant souls, then those around them ― whether they be peers, teachers or counsellors ― are not going to have any desire to approach these students and help them. Additionally, portraying school shooters as loners is contrary to the message that we need to send: All students who are struggling need support and understanding from their peers to alleviate some of the emotional turmoil in their lives.

As was shown after Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, we can provide all the support we want for laws, but laws and lawmakers cannot physically shield us from the violence.

As it was shown after Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, we can provide all the support we want for laws, but laws and lawmakers cannot physically shield us from the violence.

We can all make a difference. If federal gun control could not be changed after first graders were slaughtered at Sandy Hook and 59 people were murdered in Las Vegas, then it likely will not be changed anytime soon. It is very clear that we are not doing enough to protect ourselves. Whether through protest or petition, through contacting politicians or organizing marches or even through good old-fashioned voting, there are things we can all do to fix these issues.

We must not stop with the why. Instead, we must ask ourselves what we can do to prevent and protect ourselves from violence around us.

The right to protect ourselves is exceptionally important, but it is equally important to consider the nature of that protection. Is it reasonable to allow weapons capable of destruction on such a large scale ― a few hundred bullets a minute ― to fall into the hands of civilians with minimal background and mental health checks?

While in some sense, an arsenal of modified semi-automatics might be used for defense, the fact remains is that purchasing excessive and diverse high-powered weapons indicates intent for mass violence. While thousands of gun owners may live out their lives without ever firing the gun with criminal intent, there are many who do, and take or destroy lives. The right to bear arms was never intended to come before the unalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Please be safe, be aware and be smart.

Again the question is: What can you do? Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t hide inside for fear of being shot, but exercise caution. Think about the safest exit routes. Think about the possible hiding places. Think about possible and unpredictable dangers. Look for every exit when you walk into a new location. Look for signs that people are acting out of the ordinary and say something. These are not actions of paranoid people, rather, they are actions that we should take to ensure both our safety and the safety of others. Although these precautions may seem unnecessary, patterns over the last few decades have proved that personal safety must be taken seriously. We must stay focussed on stopping violence before it happens, even if a mass shooting isn’t in the news.

We can perfectly see these patterns; all you need to do is Google “Gun Violence.” According to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, over 11 thousand people are killed by guns every year. Yet we rarely focus on the different isolated deaths. The public has become so desensitized to what equates to “minor” gun violence, that it takes an event as horrific as the massacre of 59 people to restart national discussion on gun rights. And these “minor incidents,” it seems, are facts that are too easily forgotten. In the face of such horrific tragedy, it is too easily forgotten that for every mass shooter, there are thousands of people out there who use guns to commit violence every single day.

Our only defense is to Say Something, to speak up, to be aware of our surroundings and to continue to act and advocate even when our country isn’t focused on the most recent mass shooting.  

From the editorial board to you: Please be safe, be aware and be smart.

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