When thoughts and prayers aren’t enough

Johnston Sun Rise ·

Unfortunately, sometimes it takes a tragedy before meaningful changes are made that could have prevented such a tragedy in the first place.

In reference to the tragic Station Night Club Fire, which claimed 100 lives 15 years ago today, these changes can be seen in a beefed up fire safety compliance that has actually, in the minds of some, gone so far as to drive some businesses into bankruptcy, as keeping compliant often involves paying for assessments, being unable to open doors without paying for a fire watch and installing thousands of dollars of equipment on the business’s own dime.

Whether or not these changes are fair to business owners is a valid debate with good points on either side, but nobody can argue that the changes haven’t made buildings safer. Although the Station Fire was certainly a combination of many tragic elements that combined for a perfect storm of tragedy, there have been no widespread deaths on a similar scale due to fires in Rhode Island since the stronger fire codes were legislated.

And therein lies the point, which makes the ongoing debate over gun violence so frustrating.

There is a serious problem with gun violence in America. The problem doesn’t discriminate, as it seems every different demographic of people have been involved in at least one incident of domestic terrorism – and sometimes it is a blend of all demographics at one time, without any discernible reason or form of discrepancy in choosing victims, as was seen in Vegas.

Too often the targets are children – anywhere from as young as six years old in the Sandy Hook Massacre, to adolescents just entering their teenage years, and teens about to graduate and move onto bigger, better things. No words can convey the horrors that the survivors of these deplorable acts have witnessed, and no amount of prayers or thoughts will return those who were unfairly taken in the burst of fully automatic weapon fire.

With the Station Fire, the culprit was simple, and easy to target. No more could buildings where large crowds of people gather operate without sprinklers or multiple emergency exits. Inspections would be much more judicious in seeking out flammable materials, and would occur with more frequency. Problems were subscribed real, tangible solutions to make things better, and safer.

But with gun violence, too many forces are at work. Politicians control the rulebook, but gun lobbies are integrally ingrained into politics, and do so purposefully with sizable campaign contributions to keep gun laws from truly evolving into the modern era.

A sizable portion of the population believes that the answer to gun violence is to make sure that more people – the right people – have guns at the ready to neutralize the psychopaths with guns. The factual basis for this theory is scantly anecdotal at best, as there exists few examples outside of Hollywood where a maverick gunman actually stopped a mass shooting before it progressed.

Then there is the self-defeatist mentality held by some who argue that, no matter how many rules you draw up, a criminal will always get access to a gun if they really want to – and they’ll use it to cause chaos and take as many lives as they can. Others simply love guns, and why should they be penalized because other people are bad?

The most difficult element of all, of course, is the problem underlying the surface problem of access to guns. No mentally healthy individual wakes up and decides to murder innocent people. Until we begin to really address the mental health problems ignored or improperly treated in this country, our collective suffering will continue.

How do we find common ground on this problem?

No matter what side of the argument you stand on, after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Flordia where 17 more kids and teachers were gunned down for no reason while wrapping up what should have been a normal day, it is no longer acceptable to offer hollow thoughts and prayers without offering something else – anything else. This is a problem, and all problems have solutions – whether they are perfect or not is beside the point.

If we cannot find common ground by wanting to prevent more stories like Florida – like the one told by a student who witnessed her geography teacher, Scott Biegal, be shot to death while trying to lock his door from the outside to ensure more students could be secured safely inside – then we truly find ourselves at a dark crossroads.

Do we want to live in a society where geography teachers are forced to heroically sacrifice themselves so that more children are not slaughtered? While we must be careful not to go too far with reactionary changes in response to tragedy, not making any changes and expecting things to get better is worth nothing more than a hollow prayer.