Editorial: Compassion Needs to Cut Through the Distractions with Gun Deaths

Following the Parkland shooting last year, I was inspired by the activism of many of the student survivors, who marched to their state capital and lobbied Washington for gun control. The Advocate did a story about how those students were inspiring students in our own region to become active on the issue.

But the news from the past couple of weeks has really brought home the much more devastating, lasting effects of these mass shootings, as survivors and family members both from the Parkland and Sandy Hook school shootings apparently committed suicide.

They are Jeremy Richmond, the father of a child killed at Sandy Hook, Sydney Aiello, a 19-year-old survivor of the Parkland shooting, and a second Parkland survivor, who was not named.

In a Miami Herald story about Aiello’s death, the newspaper reported that she suffered from both survivor’s guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sadly, our focus is badly divided in the aftermath of these frequent killings due to the stranglehold the National Rifle Association has on our politics. Frustration and anguish over our inability to pass common sense gun laws due to this powerful gun lobby can cloud the necessary efforts to provide compassion and help to survivors and families in need after such traumatic experiences.

These new tragic deaths come less than two weeks after the horrendous gun killings of 50 people in two consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Last week an interfaith vigil was held at the Amherst Common to show support for the Muslim community. The focus was on showing Muslims that they are welcome despite the president’s refusal to condemn white supremacists for the attack.

It is sad that there is the need for compassionate people to distance themselves from our president. At the same time, that frustration and anguish over an inability to change gun laws was absent — at least in regard to New Zealand. Their lawmakers are making changes.

New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern immediately said, “Our gun laws will change.” Days later, a package of reforms, including a ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles and a potential tightening of firearms licensing and penalties, was introduced.

Meanwhile in the United States, with the recent suicides, survivors of shootings going back to Columbine in 1999 are speaking out to encourage survivors to seek help if they need it.

Survivors of gun violence deserve our attention, not just those from school shootings, but the great deal of urban gun violence, police killings of unarmed black people, and suicide itself, which has constituted the majority of gun deaths in America for decades, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

What is the answer? I don’t know. People spouting divisive political opinions seem to hold the media’s attention for much longer than those seeking compassionate solutions to human problems. And many of us obsessively read along.

Perhaps it is easier to be angry than to confront devastating loss.

We have lost more than two years to a distractor-in-chief, whose despicable antics include demonizing Muslims and immigrants, backing up the gun lobby at every opportunity, and in general, conducting himself without a shred of moral integrity. And thus we are falling behind in compassion to help those who really need it.

It is important to fight oppression, to fight for justice, and to work towards a better society for all. Part of that is marching and speaking out against hateful language and government actions. But perhaps an even bigger part is taking care of those who are vulnerable. May we all have the wisdom to take care of one another, help those who are hurting, and to keep our attention where it is needed most.

One resource for those struggling with suicidal thoughts is the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), which can be called any time of day or night.

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