Are “thoughts and prayers” all we have to offer?

Gun Rights

On Oct. 25, 2023, Robert R. Card II, a 40-year-old member of the U.S. Army Reserve, went on a killing spree at a bar/grille and a bowling alley both located in Lewiston, Maine. It was here where he took the lives of 18 innocent people and injured another 11. Upon entering both of these establishments, Card was armed with a legally purchased military-grade assault rifle. Allegedly six weeks before Card’s shooting spree, police in Maine had received warnings about Card and his intentions. However, there is no evidence within any public documents or record that law enforcement made any effort to reach out to Card about this. 

Since the shooting, Maine’s laws as well as its lawmakers have been under intense scrutiny. Specifically the law which makes it legal for most adults in the state to carry a concealed weapon in public without holding a permit. Another comes from the fact that any attempt within the state to institute laws that require background checks or waiting periods have failed. 

In Maine, rather than having a red flag policy which many states have enacted, they have a yellow flag policy. This process makes it extremely difficult for a judge to legally be allowed to take away weapon(s) from an individual who is deemed a danger to themselves, society or both. For an individual to legally have their weapons removed, the judge, police and a mental health expert must all come to the consensus that the person is indeed a danger. Michael Rocque, a Sociology professor at Bates College in Lewiston who studies mass shootings, pointed out that Maine “is one of the most permissive states in the country.” 

In response, Maine Gov. Janet Mills made a statement saying “action is needed.” Although Mills made no mention of any policy or regulation, she called for “a serious and robust conversion about gun violence and public safety.” Mills was not the only politician to speak out, in fact, Maine Rep. Jared Golden came out and changed his long-standing opinion regarding banning assault weapons, going so far as to say that his opposition to stricter gun control measures had been “a failure.” 

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Many state residents point to a lack of mental health services and systems as a prime reason for incidents such as this one. Other residents pointed to the weapon itself. A member on the board of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition stated that “the weapon is critical to all of this. If someone were in a mental health crisis but didn’t have an assault weapon this wouldn’t have happened.” 

Bobby Dombroski, a Maine resident, supports any policy or legislation that will strengthen gun control across the state and the country but he isn’t hopeful. The source of Dombroski’s doubt comes as a result of the lack of change in regard to this country’s gun laws, even after Sandy Hook, a mass shooting that happened at an elementary school in Connecticut taking the lives of six adults and 20 children. Dombroski emphasized his doubt regarding stricter gun laws being successfully enforced stating, “if kids dying didn’t do it, I don’t know what will.” 

The stronghold that the Second Amendment has over a portion of Americans has kept this country number one in the world for mass shootings year after year. The U.S. holds the highest number of deaths from gun violence than any of its counterparts per capita or per person. This right to bear arms that some Americans hold so dear to them directly threatens another right, the inherent right to life itself. 

Within the U.S., there is a staggering number of Americans who believe that if other Americans owned guns, there would be less crime; a notion that directly contradicts numerous studies stating that simplier access to guns causes increased numbers of gun related deaths, suicides, homicides, as well as other unintentional incidents. 

The NRA, or the National Rifle Association, promotes the idea that guns make the country safer, lobbying against any and all forms of gun control, and is responsible for directly funding lawmakers who support the organization’s beliefs and values. The NRA have been unwavering in their decades long stance against gun restrictions, regardless of the countless number of mass shootings across the U.S.. In response to school shootings, the NRA has stated a need for more security within schools and on campuses rather than calling for restrictions on ownership. 

Only a few days after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas where 19 students and two teachers were killed, the NRA held an annual convention hosted for members in Houston. At this convention, numerous members took to the stage, including former President Trump, to condemn the incident while also noting that restricting access to guns was not the answer to the U.S.’s ongoing gun problem.

These comments and statements came just a mere three days after elementary students were stuck inside their school, with no help for over 45 minutes, waiting for police to enter their classrooms. Trump and other NRA convention attendees called for an increased level of security by implementing metal detectors, fencing, having a police officer or armed teachers. However, they failed to account for the numerous security features that had been upgraded and installed at Robb Elementary school which did not stop the gunman. 

One explanation for the immense opposition against gun control and legislation can be found in a  remark made by Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota. When asked what the reaction might be from his voters at home if he were to support any instrumental form of gun control Cramer stated that, “most would probably throw me out of office.” Cramer is not the only Republican held by a need to maintain voter support. Many Republicans understand that they would not be rewarded for showing any kind of support towards gun control, by being negatively impacted by voter loss. 

A majority of Republicans hold conservative values close and gun control directly inhibits that ability to exercise their right to bear arms. The second amendment, laid out in the Constitution, is viewed by many Republicans as a sacred and inherent right, one that shouldn’t be imposed upon no matter the loss of life, bloodshed across schools, malls, concerts and the rest of the U.S.. 

This sentiment of offering “thoughts and prayers” is not enough, and it hasn’t been enough for years. This country faces an alarming rate of gun violence with mass shootings taking place both in and out of schools in comparison to other countries. Simply offering words to families grieving these tragedies isn’t enough, words aren’t justice and words won’t prevent these tragedies from reoccurring. Offering your “thoughts and prayers” to those suffering at the hands of repeated gun violence is not enough when all you are willing to extend to victims are words not actions. When your thoughts and prayers don’t extend to the implementation of stricter gun laws, waiting periods and universal background checks, they are not enough. It is incredibly hypocritical when politicians offer thoughts and prayers to those suffering at the hands of gun violence, while simultaneously striking down propositions to impose legislation that ensures these senseless acts don’t occur again. It’s not just hypocritical, it’s disgusting. 

The U.S. is at a point, it seems, of no return. It is clear that it is time to take action with many mass shootings occurring across the nation each year. Despite this overwhelming amount, Congress has continuously failed to pass any major laws in regard to gun control. 

Other countries such as Britain and Australia, when faced with a similar issue, took action immediately. In 1987, a British man was responsible for shooting and killing 16 people with a semiautomatic weapon. Immediately following this incident, the country banned weapons like the ones used in the attack he carried out. After a school shooting in 1996, in Britain, where a handgun was used to inflict terror, the country banned most handguns and is now one of the countries with the lowest gun-affiliated deaths in the entire world. 

Similarly in 1996 after a massacre in Australia, the country immediately bought back the guns from its citizens and melted an estimated one million firearms, and as a result the rate of mass shootings decreased immensely. There are numerous examples around the world of countries who experienced terrible tragedies from gun violence. Though by enacting laws and legislation against the possession of those guns, in turn, now experience incredibly low rates of shootings and gun violence overall. With Australia and Britain as glaring examples of success in regard to tackling gun violence, it begs the question, why hasn’t the U.S. followed suit? 

The answer may be as simple as lawmakers valuing retaining votes to secure re-election over solving the overwhelming gun crisis in this country.

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