Two videos. Two responses to the mass shooting Thursday at an Oregon community college. Two perspectives on gun violence.
Find them. Watch them. Which perspective do you choose?
The first is from President Barack Obama, who stood before the press corps Thursday afternoon at the White House. It was the 15th time he has had to address the nation as president after a mass shooting.
He was exasperated. He paused frequently, sometimes looking down at his prepared remarks, sometimes staring at nothing in particular as he tried to find a new way to condemn this old horror.
“Each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” he said. “It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. It does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America.”
It was the rawest expression of frustration – of futility – that the country has seen from this president. At one point, he imagined the gun lobby responding to this shooting with its usual call for more guns and fewer gun laws. “Does anybody really believe that?” Obama said, incredulously.
The other video is from Donald Trump. Yes, we’re the first to raise our eyebrows at the thought of the Republican presidential candidate leading anyone, but he is the frontrunner of the GOP race so far. On Thursday, he was asked on CNN about the Oregon shootings.
“It’s a horrible thing to behold, horrible,” Trump said, but he accompanied that thought with a verbal shrug. There’s no way to institutionalize everyone who’s mentally ill, Trump said, so some of them are inevitably going to shoot people. “You’re going to have these things happen,” he said. Fellow Republican candidate Jeb Bush, when asked about the Oregon shootings, said incredibly: “Look – stuff happens.”
Trump’s response, at least, is the same kind of diversion we get from the gun lobby after these killings. Like Trump, the NRA and its supporters want to turn the lens toward only one part of the problem – mental health – while ignoring the basic truth that if we made it harder for people to get guns, fewer people would be able to kill with them. Would that stop all violence? Of course not. Might it prevent some? Certainly.
Instead, the U.S. as a whole continues to be the only developed country with an unchecked mass shooting epidemic. One group, the Mass Shooting Tracker, said the Oregon killings brought the 294th death or injury in the U.S. this year from a shooting that involved four or more victims. That’s more than one a day.
What’s our response? We saw two Thursday. Two videos, each in their own way expressing futility.
But there’s another response available. It’s ours, as citizens who shared the president’s exasperation this week. Quaint as it may sound, we need to demand that our leaders heed what a significant majority of Americans are telling them in polls.
That means along with investing in mental health treatment and awareness, Congress should pass tougher background checks for gun sales. It means removing obstacles so that states can share information on mental health issues of prospective gun buyers. It means a ban on military style assault weapons, and it means closing loopholes allowing “straw purchasers” to pass background checks before passing guns to those who can’t.
Until Congress finally does so, there very simply will be more days like Thursday, with more deaths, more frustration, more futility.