America, we need to talk about your violence

After the tragedy at Pulse in Orlando, I saw a lot of posts on my Facebook newsfeed about how this is not the time to discuss your views on the second amendment; this is a time for prayer and silent reflection. And yes, no doubt, this should be a somber time of remembrance, but it is also the perfect time to get together and have educated discussions about how we, as a society, can prevent atrocities like this from happening in the future.

Up until recently, I lived in Florida. I have friends and family in Florida, some that live closer to Orlando than I do. That could have been one of them. That could have been me. And let me be blunt, if it was my cell phone going off on my dead body on the floor of Pulse all night, I would want my death to mean something. I would want it to represent a mass social awakening that the way we live is hazardous to our health, happiness, and safety. And we have to do something more than pray on Twitter and Facebook. We have to have open, civil discussions about what it is that is wrong in our country that makes people behave in horrendously violent ways. And we have to elect leaders that are willing to do the same.

We have to talk about what makes our society more bloodthirsty, hateful, and stressed that makes people turn to senseless violence. We have to talk about why someone on the FBI’s radar was able to purchase a killing machine. We have to talk about the fact that what we’ve been doing is not working and why. Because without that – without discussion – nothing is ever going to change. We are just resigning ourselves to living in the most violent first-world country in the world.

It doesn’t have to be that way. And, in fact, it isn’t. I’m not going to give statistics of comparison, because obviously the only statistics people care about are how many people were gunned down at once in Florida on Saturday. But I’ll give you some anecdotal evidence. Over the past month or so, I’ve been to eight countries in Europe and obviously, spent more time out in public than I ever did back home. I went to what the media would have you believe is one of the most dangerous countries in Europe right now, Belgium. I spent a week there. And do you know how many shootings occurred during my visit to all eight of those countries? Zero.

The news in the Netherlands and Germany is not about how many people died violently there that day. It’s about economic issues, major cultural events, athletic achievements, about that morning’s successful breast cancer walk. In other countries, one gun death is just as stunning to them as 49 are to us. So what are we doing wrong? Why are American-born citizens opening fire on each other every single day? A happy, stable society does not generate ISIS sympathizers. Maybe that’s what happens after decades of political and financial corruption, human rights violations, income inequality, and lax gun laws.

Maybe if the shooter had felt more supported by Florida lawmakers as a homosexual man, he would never have turned his own self-loathing into violence. Maybe if we had stricter checks on who can legally purchase a gun in the United States, he wouldn’t have had the means. Maybe if he had better access to mental health care, he wouldn’t have had the desire. I couldn’t say; I’ve been asked not to talk about it out of respect for the victims.

I know violence can and does happen anywhere at any time. But we’re not talking about once in a blue moon here. This was the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, and this happens every day. In fact, there are so many deaths by shooting in the US that it averages out to about 36 per day. But we only seem to care when it happens en masse. We only care when the death toll from one man’s gun is higher than average.

We have to stop thinking these are isolated tragedies with no cause and no preventable solution. This is a cancer. And the same way we study cancer in order to prevent it, we have to carefully study the violence problem in the United States. We have to identify where we went wrong and how to fix that. I thought it would happen after Virginia Tech, after Sandy Hook, after Colorado. But here we are, still tiptoeing around it, still unwilling to admit our own faults in order to better ourselves.

We have to stop thinking that having a healthy debate about the gun crisis in the US is disrespectful to the people who died. Ignoring the problem is more disrespectful, and obviously more damaging.

So I’ll do the little I can: vote in good conscience in November, light a candle in front of the American Embassy in Prague for the victims. And dedicate this to the 49 victims of the Orlando shooting and the other 14 people that were shot dead across the country on June 12 that did not receive our prayers, thoughts, and attention because they didn’t die at Pulse.