Thursday, June 30, 2016


I am dreaming of a day, when my attention would not be drawn to yet another mass shooting in this land, which I have come to call home. The more gun violence I read about, the less desirable America becomes as a society to live in. Many come to this land seeking justice and protection. Others admire this nation, for to a large extent the "system works". But it is becoming apparent, that when it comes to gun violence, it clearly does not.

Since the time I started this exercise of dispersing my thoughts with words into this void called the internet, I have lost count how many times I have visited the subject of mass murder. I wrote a piece this year alone called "The Disease Within", where I sighted gun violence as a sickness plaguing American society. Much like cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease, gun violence is adversely impacting American lives, as more than 30,000 lives are lost each year. Billions of dollars are poured into finding cures for cancer; an insignificant amount is spent in finding a remedy for gun violence.  

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) studies a variety of public health threats facing America. From infectious disease to automobile safety, this federally funded agency is tasked with the responsibility of protecting the public from undue harm. But for 15 years the CDC has not done any comprehensive research on one of the top causes of death in the United States: firearms. The reason: a lack of funding from the federal government. In 1997, an amendment was added to an operations bill that passed in Congress with language that impedes the CDC from conducting research that will “advocate or promote gun control”.

While the CDC keeps surveillance data on gun injuries and deaths, it has not funded a single study aimed at reducing harm from guns since 2001. The CDC is aware from its own research that guns are one of the top five causes of death for people under the age of 65. So the lack of comprehensive research is not only glaring, but is in complete contradiction to its mission. This sends a clear message that the very government we have elected, whose primary directive is to protect its citizens, is in fact working against the safety of its own people. 

The mass shooting that took place in Orlando this month already seems like a distant memory. It has moved of the news cycle, the rainbow flags are gone, the memorials have been swept away, striped filters on Facebook have vanished and we are back to the day before the shooting. While the world debated whether it was a terrorist attack or a mentally ill person unloading his automatic weapon, what was not lost, was the grotesque horror of it all. For a moment when the emotions were high, and as this event was labeled as the second or third deadliest incident of gun violence in the nation, there was hope that congress would take urgent action. As there was hope when toddlers were gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. 

When Congress could not respond to the death of innocent children, the chances of anything meaningful happening when gay people were gunned down was rather remote. And as expected the morally bankrupt and ethically corrupt congress did not budge an inch. The dramatic theater of sit-ins and protest by the democrats on the house floor yielded no result. The country went back into the pocket of gun lobbyists and the industry of mass murder.

There is no more a polarizing topic, as gun violence in this country. There is overwhelming support from the public to do something about it, even if on the margins, but the deadlock in congress stifles any change. A similar scenario prevailed decades ago when America was engaged in another arena of violence, the Vietnam War. After a decade, with over fifty thousand body bags returned home, the appetite for violence within the American public had run its course. The war had touched too many, and the pointlessness of it was becoming apparent to all. There were mass protests in the streets, on college campuses and at music concerts. The pressure on congress to end all hostilities was severe. But what to some extent turned the tide was when the war actually began to touch the members of congress. When their family members started coming home in body bags, they began to realize the horror of it all. And the war ended soon after.

The inability of the United States Congress to enact any legislation to prevent gun violence makes them culpable. Their hands are bloodied. And every instance they vote to do nothing as civilians get gunned down, their hands only get bloodier.

It appears that the appetite for violence is on the increase. The appetite to not only commit horrific acts of violence, but also the appetite to consume violence via mass media seems to be on the rise. The act of watching more and more grotesque acts on screen has become a norm. Television shows like the global hit Game of Thrones and feature films in general, are pushing the envelope of fictional violence. Recent acts of deplorable violence committed in the name of ISIS, have shaken people to their core, but have also desensitized them in the process. Since I started writing this piece, suicide bombers attacked an airport in Istanbul, boys from affluent families in Bangladesh hacked foreigners to death in a cafe and bombs killed and maimed hundreds in a Baghdad market, all in the holy month of Ramadan. While reading about these acts of violence, I found myself numb. Not just numb to the acts of horror committed, but to the frequency at which such acts are being committed since that ill-fated day when planes crashed into buildings a few hundred meters from my home.

What comes out of violence is fear. And people seeking power can easily exploit fear. Even though less people in America have died from overt terrorism and more die everyday as a result of one on one gun violence, the specter of Islamic terrorism looms larger in the psyche of Americans. Presidential candidates like Donald Trump and his ilk stoke that fear to promote an agenda of seclusion and suspicion of the other. The rhetoric used by leaders who successfully removed the United Kingdom from the European Union, was of exclusion, fear and xenophobia. Right wing parties in Austria, Germany and other parts of Europe are capitalizing on this changing mood to rise from the shadows and feed off of people's perceived insecurities. At the core of this hysteria is a sense of terror and violence that is engulfing our very being. Most of it fueled by the immediacy of social media.

Every time there is a massacre in America, as seen in Orlando recently, flags across this nation fly at half-mast honoring and mourning the dead. Unless there is meaningful legislation to address gun violence, the American flag should fly at half-mast, permanently

It is what it is.