Have frequent mass shootings become an inevitable violence in the U.S.?

On a Friday morning in December of 2012, I was home from school sick and sitting in my kitchen as I watched the news. At the age of 13, I was an avid CNN watcher, keeping up with every natural disaster and news story that hit. But, on this Monday, sitting in my pajamas, the story that hit was unimaginable. There was a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14th, 2012, took the lives of 20 children between ages six and seven, as well as six staff members. The news shook me to the core and from that moment on, I grew up fearing gun violence in a movie theater, school, or simply walking down the street. I, along with students around the country grew up practicing for a mass shooting in lockdown drills and school procedures.

Between 1999, my birth year, and present day, I have lived through the stories of dozens of mass shootings, and two of the five deadliest have happened in the last six months. Because of the frequency, these events lead people like me to believe that these preventable deaths are just one of the many horrific parts of living in the United States.

Although gun violence has haunted America since the invention of guns, the shooting on April 20th, 1999 marked an important moment in gun history. On that date, two armed teenagers walked into Columbine High School, shooting 13 people and wounding 20, and later both killing themselves. However, I was told about Columbine in a much more personal way because my cousin was a junior in high school at Columbine High in 1999. Craig Nason was 17 at the time and was one of the 40 people who hid, barricaded in a choir room, for the duration of the shooting and several hours after.

“I’m a survivor of a school shooting – one that is sadly fading in our minds because it is trumped by so many other more devastating, more contemporary shootings,” Nason said.

This year, Columbine fell out of the “Top 10” deadliest mass shootings in US History. In 1999, it was the worst school shooting in U.S. history, that changed, however, after the shootings at Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary.

Nason recalled, “the scale of the carnage came even more into focus when we were eventually escorted out by SWAT team, down hallways that were hardly recognizable, ultimately running by a deceased classmate who I later learned was a friend Rachel Scott. The moment was devastating. And of course there was so much more grief that day and in the days that followed.”

In regards to the gun control debate, Nason said, “It seems obvious that there are so many common sense gun laws that would reduce shootings, and at the very least reduce the casualties in future shootings (high capacity magazines, bump stocks, semi-automatic, etc.) – but the gun lobby and the sizable group of citizen constituents who support them see any regulations as an assault on their Second Amendment rights.”

As someone who has witnessed such a tragic event, Nason is wary of the future of gun laws.  He said, “When you have events like Newtown and more recently Las Vegas (and so many others), and the outcome is next to nothing in terms of policy change… it feels a bit bleak.  I understand there are two sides to the gun control debate. I know other Columbine alum who are not for gun control measures, and I realize there is more than just gun control to look at when it comes to addressing mass violence, like mental health, school safety, etc..  I do believe there can be more common ground. If we could better demonstrate that specific activities or policies produce a reduction in shootings and mass violence, we might find traction to reverse this terrible trend in our country.”

Following the Columbine shooting, the debate over gun control reached both state and national governments. According to Popular Science Magazine, a year after Columbine, “lawmakers proposed more than 800 bills having to do with guns. Some promoted gun control—for example, beefing up background checks—while others promoted gun ownership rights—for example, protecting the rights of gun owners who cross state lines with weapons. About 10 percent of those bills passed.”

Although the conversation was ignited and the country mourned, few laws were made in order to prevent future gun violence, and whether or not that is due to the lack of laws, gun violence has continued to prevail in our country. Too many times, Americans have turned on the news to read “mass shooting…” in a movie theater, elementary school, college, concert, church, nightclub, restaurant, and so on.

In my own life, these mass shootings have become markers of time.

I remember being enthralled in the news coverage of the shooting at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater in 2012 when I was 13. Even though the newscasters were simply repeating the same numbers and news every ten minutes, I couldn’t look away. That night, I went with my sisters and mom to our local movie theater to see Beasts of the Southern Wild. However, after sitting down in the small theater and holding my breath every time someone walked into the dark room, I told my mom that I had to leave. I was too scared to be in the theater, and to this day, I continue to check exit signs and ways out at every movie theater.

Each time I hear the “breaking news” about a shooting, I feel that same fear and helplessness that I did when I was a 13 year old in a movie theater. As I have gotten older, however, I have become more attuned to the news that follows the initial story. Now, I am interested in what politicians and lawmakers are doing to prevent another awful headline from moving across our screens. The same debate plays out every time. Typically, liberals demand tighter regulations and stricter gun laws, while conservatives often argue that it is not the gun that creates the deaths, it is the person. And, while the conversation in Congress is loud and highly publicized, the outcome is often the same, which is very little to no major law changes.

Another outcome of the gun control conversation after mass shootings, which is maybe the most surprising and troubling to me, is that often gun sales and investments rise after a mass shooting.

This fall, one month into my senior year, I awoke to the shocking news that someone opened fire at a concert in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and injuring 572. As the death toll rose, the Las Vegas shooting was named the deadliest shooting on U.S. soil. In the days following as Americans mourned, many Americans also bought shares of gun manufacturing companies due to the fear that stricter laws could follow and the want to protect oneself from violence.

According to Market Watch, following the Las Vegas shooting, “Smith & Wesson parent American Outdoor Brands Corp.’s stock jumped 3.0% in afternoon trade. Volume topped 3.7 million shares, compared with the full-day average over the past 30 days of 2.1 million shares.” Billionaire and investor in Sturm, Ruger & Company, an American firearm manufacturer, Louis Navellier said in an interview with CNBC in January of 2016, “Mr. Obama is the best gun salesman on the planet,” after he had seen increases in the stock following the San Bernardino shooting.

With all of this, I am left with the same question, what will it take for “mass shooting” to not be the next headline we read? If our former president attempted to make stricter laws but possibly became a “salesman,” and our current President Donald Trump said “this isn’t a guns situation…But this is a mental health problem at the highest level” after the Texas church shooting in November 2017, then what does America’s future with gun violence look like?