Back in 1999, Columbine was all over the news, and the “Trench Coat Mafia” was the buzzword of the day. In the aftermath of the Columbine School Shooting, the headlines targeted video games, music, and parenting. In recent news, acts of domestic terrorism have captured the headlines once again, this time with jaw-dropping reports of injuries and casualties from incidents happening across the United States; from Las Vegas, Nevada to Parkland, Florida and more. As a nation built on violent revolution, guns have played a pivotal role in conquest, oppression and the reinforcement of a stratified society; from Native American land-grabs during colonial times to excessive use of force by civil servants in modern times.
Despite the deaths that firearms contribute to, the right to bear arms is a quintessential element of the U.S. Constitution. However, if the American Love affair with bigger, better and more powerful arms is to continue, then the it is time to consider how these weapons are affecting the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of non-firearm wielding citizens, visitors, and resident-aliens.
A broader look around the world results in a stark difference in gun violence caused by civil servants and civilians. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation‘s database–as of 2016–the United States ranked as the country with the 31st highest rate of gun violence in the entire world. If thoughts and prayers could help fix the gun issues, then 2016 was the year to start praying.
From Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999 to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day in 2018, the accessibility to firearms is what made the shootings possible. The disproportionate ease of access to fire arms are tied to a lack in regulation that one should consider to be a security breach of the “free state”. With a number of schools, public transportation, and even night clubs incidents reported over the past two decades, either citizens need to be better armed, or the process for acquiring fire arms needs to be revamped.
“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
— U.S. Constitution | Second Amendment —
History, however, reveals that revamping a system can pose it’s own set of complications, for example: At the height of the civil rights movement during the 1960’s renown peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Dr. Martin Luther King had applied for a concealed firearm permit, but he was denied access, despite the violence that was escalating around him. Later, after a discussion with other peace advocates about the relevance of guns in the ongoing fight for peace he later disarmed his home. Despite, being unarmed, he like John F. Kennedy, would fall victim to assassination by a firearm.
Meanwhile, other civil rights contemporaries, including Malcolm X, as well as the Black Panther Party, exercised their right to bear arms as part of a public challenge against the police brutality that had disproportionately affected people of color and their neighborhoods. The government response was the Mulford Act of 1967, now California penal code 25850, which criminalized the carrying of loaded firearms with misdemeanor or felony charges–depending on the circumstances.
Today, the usage of firearms by peace officers and civilians is a contentious subject, as the lines between acceptable use and questionable bias fluctuates from city to city, and case by case. Films such as the The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 written and directed by Göran Hugo Olsson; Fruitvale Station directed by Ryan Coogler and written by The Weinstein Company (yes, that Weinstein Company); as well as Bowling for Columbine, written and directed by Michael Moore, contextualize some of the historical and modern issues surrounding gun control in America.
In regards to gun violence, Dr. Cornell West has stated that “We can’t just shed tears for those on the vanilla side of town,” and continued by stating that “they are precious, but they are no less or more precious than our poor brothers and sisters on Indian reservations (who are killing each other) or be they black or brown or what have you.” While gun violence is affecting broad groups of Americans, regardless of class, creed, religion, sexuality or gender identity, the enforcement of gun security appears to be a core problem that neither the National Rifle Association, Government Agencies or Citizens have come to an agreement on. Whether the future of gun security is dependent on mental health evaluations, age requirements, education training, registration or something else entirely has yet to be determined, but one thing is for sure; as long as access to bigger, faster and more powerful guns, such as the AK-47 and AR-15, stay in effect, the next shooting is just around the corner.
During 1999, I was a student at John Marshall High School in Los Feliz, California. This SoCal high school has claim to a plethora of famous alumni such as Heidi Fleiss, Lance Ito, as well as Will.I.Am, it also has had many appearances in film, music and television over the years, but in 1999, after the events of Columbine, it was just another potential target that could explode at any moment. Having lived South of Sunset, gunshots were something I was acclimated to; after-all, I had lived through drive-bys, saw police raids and had already experienced neighborhood shoot-outs; however, the Columbine Massacre brought the tragedy of the outside world into an environment that I had not anticipated, school.
Back then we didn’t have the level of hyper-communication that exists today, the internet was still wild (and neutral), and cellphones were not the personal computers that they are today. It was a different era. I do, however, remember being bombarded with the idea that the next shooting could happen any day, and fortunately for me and my peers, that judgement day never came, and most of us made it through our teens.
After nearly 20 years since Columbine, it is disheartening to witness history repeating itself in such a violent way at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Moving forward, the need to compassionately address mental health and gun security will be a must, both for civilians and civil servants. Whether future gun security will involve education courses, mental health screenings or permit requirements will be up for debate, but the reality is that without modern safety measures in place, the challenge to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” will continue to be at odds with peace.
MICHAEL RAY IS A CALIFORNIA WRITER, EDITOR, AND GENERATION Y SHUTTERBUG WITH AN INTEREST IN ENVIRONMENTALISM, SOCIAL ACTIVISM AND PHOTOGRAPHY.
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From California with Love,