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Almost two years ago, I exited my COS 109 class and opened my phone to find a flurry of texts. 14 people had been killed in a mass shooting that took place in my hometown of San Bernardino. 

Six months ago, I exited my MUS 206 class and opened my phone to find a flurry of texts. Three people had been killed in a shooting that took place at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino. Students were evacuated to Cajon High School, my alma mater, which is less than a mile away. 

A week ago, I woke up and opened my phone to find a flurry of news alerts. 59 people had been killed in a mass shooting that took place at a Las Vegas country music festival. Among the dead was a student at California State University San Bernardino, where both of my parents teach and many of my friends attend. 

Reflecting on these three separate tragedies, I cannot help but think of a comment made by then-presidential candidate Jeb Bush in response to the October 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting: “Stuff happens." Faced with a barrage of criticism from the media and the political community, he later backpedaled and claimed that he was referring to tragedies in general, not just gun violence. 

But Jeb's words weren’t that outrageous. If anything, they were reflective of a far more uncomfortable truth that many of us are unwilling to accept.

Let’s begin with a smaller truth: realistic gun control can only do so much, and it’s not a lot. Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, didn’t possess a criminal record or a documented history of mental illness, so all of his gun purchases were legal. And although the NRA recently endorsed an effort to regulate bump stocks, which Paddock used to modify one of his rifles into a makeshift machine gun, it’s worth remembering that the Orlando, San Bernardino, and Sandy Hook shootings were all committed with semiautomatic weapons. New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, in a recent op-ed, put it best: 

“The more closely one looks at what passes for ‘common sense’ gun laws, the more feckless they appear. Americans who claim to be outraged by gun crimes should want to do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts … There is only one way to do this: Repeal the Second Amendment,” wrote Stephens.

But that brings us to an even more immutable truth: the Second Amendment is not going anywhere. Public opinion is staunchly against its repeal — a 2016 Gallup poll revealed that only 23 percent of Americans are in favor of a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons. And Australia’s gun buyback program is a laughable fantasy within the context of the United States, no matter how much liberals get excited at the prospect. Can you really imagine that people who sleep with their guns by their bedsides would willingly give them up for any amount of money? And, if you can’t, are you willing to live in a society in which the government sends armed troops into people’s homes to forcibly take away their guns?

Jeb Bush was right. These shootings are just stuff. To endow them with more significance is to imply that something can and will be done to prevent them. But stuff— we shrug off stuff.  

Stuff happens. And stuff will continue to happen, whether it’s next year, next month, next week, maybe even tomorrow. 

When you look into the eyes of those who have lost friends or family to gun violence, be honest. Tell them that their loved ones died in service of the greatest cause of them all — keeping sacrosanct the Second Amendment. Tell them that they died so that others may reserve their unalienable right to shoot and kill.

After all, the Second Amendment is just one of the many gods that we, as members of this great and free nation, must worship. When a child expresses fear at having to go to school, or a parent bids their children good-bye without knowing if it might be the last time they see them — these are genuflections we make to the Second Amendment. And every precious life we lose to gun violence is a tithe we pay to it. 

The Second Amendment is a Shylockian god, asking only for a few pounds of our flesh. Yet with every pound we give, we grow heavier — until there is nothing left to give.

Lou Chen is a music major from San Bernardino, Calif. He can be reached at lychen@princeton.edu.

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