American Gun Violence and the Path Forward


Ishir Talapatra

The shooting to me still feels surreal. Coming to the United States for the first time in August 2022, I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen similar reports in the news while I was abroad, but in all honesty, it felt like another dimension. Well, this supposedly alternate world became a reality; I was terrified. Boarded up in my room for five hours while simultaneously listening to police radio, students should never have to worry about their livelihood in this manner.” 

The words above are from a high school friend of mine who attends Michigan State University and was present on campus during the Feb. 14 shooting. My first reaction was to check in with him and then check for casualties, and I’m most ashamed to say that my initial reaction to seeing three students dead was being grateful that the death toll wasn’t higher.

It turns out I’m not alone. The mass shooting at MSU was the 67th in the United States this year. Americans are reportedly feeling a “compassion collapse,” according to researchers, where an increase in fatalities correlates to a decrease in emotional reaction to these losses. The more a traumatic event occurs, the more numb to it one becomes. Unfortunately, the scope and scale of the event don’t affect this equation, explaining the increasing apathy towards gun violence in this country.

There are many people to blame for the failure to solve our gun crisis; politicians who compare banning assault weapons as a reaction to mass shooting to banning planes as a reaction to 9/11; gun lobbyists, who systematically and rather effectively buy off the support of said politicians with large donations; or even voters, who fail to prioritize gun control when casting their ballots despite saying they will. It’s a never-ending cycle of thoughts and prayers, a debate that leads nowhere, and then a return to the status quo, before yet another mass shooting that spawns the same conversations and perhaps the same sort of article as this one.

Advocating for gun safety measures is the obvious solution. Not a single person can look clearly at the situation in this country and not see the need for reform, and comprehensive lists have already been compiled by organizations such as Everytown for Gun Safety. But it is also up to us to prolong media and public attention to the situation by talking about these issues and potential solutions. This places pressure on the people who possess the power to make a difference. The United States represents 4% of the world’s population but owns 40% of its guns — which can be traced to American cultural values that emphasize gun ownership, a staggering mental health crisis, urban poverty, and decay. Adequately addressing these issues means both shining a light on them and pushing for government action — not just blindly spending more on enforcement, but working with local officials to help continue and expand successful existing programs, such as the Safe Streets Initiative

Looking at what other countries have implemented across the world is also a way forward, especially nations such as Australia and the United Kingdom which have dealt with mass shootings in the past and have almost eradicated them since. These ways of moving forward have to be covered more strongly not just by the media, but by everyone affected by gun violence. Publicizing these solutions and creating pressure at the local level for implementation can be a stepping stone to future national action such as the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, a significant small step accomplished thanks to sustained pressure.

Bigger steps will be possible as long as this pressure does not let up. We cannot let mass shootings become normalized. The cycle must be stopped. Only then, will real change be within our reach. 

Image courtesy of Dulcey Lima from Unsplash