A bar in the city neighboring my Southern California hometown got shot up last Wednesday.
A bar I’ve been to, that friends frequented, that friends have worked at. I didn’t lose anyone, but that was merely by chance.
This mass shooting isn’t about me, and neither is this column.
It’s about you, and the fact that at any time, the same thing could happen to any of us.
At school, at work, when we’re enjoying some drinks at a local bar. It could happen to your parents back home or to a friend while traveling.
When I last wrote about mass shootings and gun violence, which was far too recently, I had lost hope of a solution to what I called our slow-motion civil war.
I still feel that way much of the time, but apathy only maintains the status quo. I still think that serious, fundamental reforms to our gun laws would take a drastic cultural change that could be a century or more in the future.
We can try to work toward that and hold hope for future generations, but we can also do things in the here and now that would have prevented the Thousand Oaks shooting.
We need to say something when we see or hear something.
The shooter had the police called on him at least once for a domestic disturbance, and friends had been concerned about him to the point of one saying, “If I (knew) anyone that might become a shooter, it would be (the Thousand Oaks shooter).”
California, like many states, has what’s known as a red flag law for situations where people are suspected of being a danger to themselves or others.
It enables law enforcement of officers to confiscate someone’s weapons until the situation is resolved.
According to Guardian senior reporter Lois Beckett, Florida used its red flag law more often in its first five months of existence than California did in the first two years of its own.
Many family members and even law enforcement officers don’t know the law exists or how to enforce it.
This is, in large part, because of how the media covers these issues. Notice how I excluded the shooter’s name above.
The media always publishes the shooters’ names and uses language like “worst ever” and “most victims since,” like it’s a video game high score.
There is no journalistic value in reporting these details, and the important information in the story can easily be gotten across without them.
The media tends to focus on the sensational aspects of mass shootings without properly informing people of how to help prevent them.
We can also stop blaming gun violence on mental illness.
It’s merely an excuse for anti-gun control advocates to ignore their complicity in mass violence and point the finger at a vulnerable group.
And sure, mass shootings are typically committed by people with unaddressed mental health problems. Murdering people due to hallucinations or delusional thinking is, by definition, the result of mental illness.
But people with mental illness are statistically more likely to be the victims of violence than be the perpetrators.
Pointing the finger at mental illness also ignores the fact that most gun violence takes place between perfectly healthy people who start a fight with each other, or get in a road rage altercation, or are engaged in, or the victim of, some sort of criminal activity.
While it’s true that the impulse to commit suicide by gun is driven by mental illness, guns are proven to greatly increase one’s chance of death by suicide.
Immediate and irreversible suicide is only possible by a few methods, and only one fits in your dresser drawer.
All that said, we can advocate for expansions of mental health services for those who need it, and take it upon ourselves to help the people around us who need it and intervene in responsible ways when necessary.
Right-wing gun rights advocates should especially be taken to task for their intellectual dishonesty when they claim mass shootings are a mental health problem, not a gun problem, while also advocating for the shrinkage of government healthcare programs that could help prevent them.
We can also continue to organize with gun control lobbying groups to take on the NRA, America’s gun manufacturing lobby that pretends it stands for the rights of sportsmen, hunters and those who want to defend themselves.
The NRA is incredibly powerful, but it’s not the biggest impediment of gun control advocates’ work. Apathy is.
We can try to get it into gun rights advocates’ heads that their hobby and misguided home defense schemes are not worth this.
We can work harder to get the point across that the effects of gun ownership do not stop at their property line.
And we can do this while remaining empathetic and understanding toward their desires and fears.
I hope a shooting doesn’t happen in your hometown, and I hope one never affects someone you love.
But it’s getting to the point where soon, no American will be able to say they don’t know someone who was a victim or who lost someone to gun violence.
Let’s re-energize ourselves and work harder toward a cease-fire in our grinding civil war in the short term while keeping our eyes on the long-term goal of the abolition of civilian ownership of weapons of war.