100 days later: personalizing tragedy
While relaxing during break, I received an email titled “Princeton Investing in Assault Weapons.” It was about a recent petition urging the school to divest from assault weapon manufacturers in light of the Newtown tragedy. Although at first I thought little of it, over break I continued to think more and more about the email. It had served its purpose; I was paying attention.
When we look at gun violence, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of statistics: pain replaced by facts and loss replaced by numbers. It is only when a face is connected to each death that it hits close to home. At the height of the Vietnam War, every American who turned on his or her television set for the evening news was greeted by a body count: a scorecard of deaths. Although the numbers were startling, it was the face of the marine who died in combat that made it unsettling and uncomfortable. The body count was effective, but only with personal connection did it succeed in serving as a constant reminder of the harsh realities of war.
As newly minted adults living in Princeton, it is often hard for most of us to visualize a world of frequent gun violence, let alone a time when the only thing that separated an 18-year-old from a position in the U.S. infantry was a lottery and the date of his birth. Bluntly put, despite the fact that Princeton boasts an ROTC program, most of us never have and probably never will experience gun violence on a first-person basis. Living within the confines of FitzRandolph Gate for the past year has only helped to reinforce this concept of safety and security.
On Dec. 14, that all changed for me.
As the fall semester wrapped up, I eagerly joined the thousands of other students who made the pilgrimage home. On the way, I was welcomed by an eerie message: 27 dead in an elementary-school shooting. At first the numbers stunned me; however, it wasn’t until the pictures of the children were broadcast on the news that night that it finally began to sink in. I, like many, was shocked to hear of the horrific events that had occurred in Newtown, Conn. I, like many, questioned how a man could be so depraved that he took the lives of 27 innocent people. I, like many, could not wrap my head around the tragedy that had befallen an unsuspecting town, especially one so close to home.
That was 100 days ago.
In a world of the 24/7 news cycle, the once prominent and infuriating tragic event from three short months ago now seems to have faded into the background. That’s not to say that I think the events of Newtown were not horrible. They were, they are, and they always will be. But in the midst of the constant concerns about handing in the next problem set or finishing the next internship application, my once fierce demand for action has diminished; Newtown has become another statistic. I know that I should still care. I know that I should still feel inspired to action. But I’m not. I have to admit, I have been busy with my own life.
Since Newtown, 2,883 more have been killed by gun violence.
For instance, on Feb. 26, as I was scrambling to finish a problem set for WWS 200 due the next day, about 10 miles away 18-year-old James Austin was in a fight. While I struggled to understand the programming language R, he was in a struggle for his own life. I ended up with a B; he ended up with a bullet in his chest. It’s often easier to assume that these stories we hear — of pain, of violence, of death — are isolated incidences. When we think of gun violence, our minds jump to the words “Newtown,” “Aurora,” “Columbine” or “Virginia Tech.” However, the problem is not just mass shootings. The news website Slate displays every reported gun death over the past 100 days. Since Newtown, there have been, on average, 58 gun-related deaths per state, or in other words, each state has lost the equivalent of two Newtowns. That number does not even account for the many possible unreported or unconfirmed deaths.
Zero gun reform laws have been passed.
To mark the 100-day anniversary of Newtown, Americans were greeted this week by the news that, due to a lack of congressional support, the assault weapons ban was removed from Senator Reid’s gun reform bill.
Calling for the University to divest was a good first step; however, we cannot end there. The body count, the petition, the statistics — they are not enough. Maybe it’s time to give tragedy a permanent face. During the recent Mental Health Awareness Week, displays of individuals’ faces were able to spur campus-wide discussions about mental health. If we could keep the stories and memories of gun victims alive by conducting a similar campaign, it would serve as a constant reminder of an unsolved problem. Perhaps then we will be inspired to take meaningful action.
Benjamin Dinovelli is a freshman from Mystic, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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