Mass shootings are the bane of America’s pastime, and a ruination that has normalized a violent epidemic that once triggered nationwide hysteria and breaking news inserts from most media outlets in the mainstream.
Now, they are a part of the country’s fabric. An unsettling nostalgia interlaced in hair-raising incidents such as the Columbine High School Massacre (April 1999), the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado (November 2022), the mass shooting at Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia (November 2022), the Orlando Nightclub mass shooting (June 2016), the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S history at Las Vegas (October 2017), the Pittsburgh Synagogue mass shooting (October 2018), the Thousand Oaks mass shooting (November 2018), the Robb Elementary School shooting ( May 2022), the grocery store mass shooting in Buffalo, NY (May 2022), and the University of Virginia mass shooting (2022). The jaw-dropping, ongoing series of ill-fated events remains a shock to the outside world, but stateside, they have practically become an annual routine. Roughly 41,000 Americans die every year from gun violence. According to reports, there have been over 611 mass shootings on record in the country this year alone.
As the monotony of shootings continues to drown out the normalcy of it all, the projections for gun violence in the future are staggering. But who is to blame for America’s cloudy road ahead? Is it the past? One of the foundational principles of the United States is ‘The Second Amendment,’ which outlined an American’s right to bear arms in order to secure a free state, just eight years after a militia of patriots from the thirteen colonies won its independence from Great Britain (September 1783) during the Colonial Period. America’s innovative democratic system paved the way for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Supreme Court; all of which helped make firearms a fundamental part of the most powerful country in the western hemisphere–for better and for worse. In the sequential centuries, distinctive American politicians such as President Abraham Lincoln (April 1865), President John F. Kennedy (November 1963), Senator Robert F. Kennedy (June 1968), and Harvey Milk (November 1978) were all tragically assassinated; caught in the crossfire of electoral agendas and the prevalence of guns in a country they fought to change. Their untimely deaths served as a painful reminder to Americans that no one was safe from meeting their fate down the barrel of a gun. Whether they were a Civil Rights leader like Martin Luther King Jr. or iconic musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Kurt Cobain, 2Pac, Biggie, or Selena, this is an alarming tale that has seen bloodshed all across pop culture along with the social and political spectrum in the United States of America.
Political and social unrest have been simmering in America since the ‘Manifest Destiny’ era, during which time Republican Party was formed, the Democratic Party was formed, the country suffered its first presidential assassination by gunfire, and the first major gangs in New York City emerged. As the wheel of time turned, from century to century, the ‘Roaring Twenties’ brought forth pop music for the first time and perhaps the most vicious mass shooting Americans have ever witnessed, the ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’ of Black Wallstreet.
From the 1920s onward, original American entertainment flourished, while mass shootings in America persisted without major governmental intervention until the inaugural federal gun control legislation was passed in 1986. But one year later, Nintendo released the most popular ‘Shooter Video Game’ of the 80s, Contra. And the following year, N.W.A. ushered in the ‘Golden Era’ of Gangsta rap. This prompted the government to issue the music industry’s first ‘Parental Advisory’ sticker. While politicians such as Joe Liberman publicly expressed their desire to ban violent video games altogether during the United States Senate Hearings on Video Games (December 1993). Gangsta rap would go on to influence the making of Trap rap and Drill several decades later. While Contra undoubtedly inspired iconic first-person shooter games like Doom (1993), Halo (2001) Call of Duty (2003), and Fortnite (2017). The U.S. government did not stop there, back in 1995, the Department of Justice published a report condemning the curators of Heavy Metal, stating, “Those involved in the rock culture were more likely to be low achievers, involved in drugs, sexually active, and involved in satanic activities.” Four years later, the infamous “Columbine High School Massacre” shocked the nation. To this day, many people still believe that the shooters, Eric Harris (18) and Dyland Klebold (18), were heavily influenced by a rock musician named Marilyn Manson and the first-person shooter (video) game Doom. The following year, Eminem came under fire for referencing Marilyn Manson and the Columbine massacre in his hit song, “The Way I Am.”
Nevertheless, the music and video games that government officials may view as violent are considered “protected free speech via the first amendment.” Today, violence in entertainment, video games, and freedom of speech are built-in components of the mainstream. Although first-person shooter games and some of the song lyrics are fictional, the undertone is remindful of some very real stat lines in America. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45,222 Americans fell victim to gun violence in 2020. The following year saw an increase of 3,778 lose their lives in the same manner. To put those startling numbers into perspective, the country’s North American neighbors, Mexico and Canada, had a combined total of approximately 22,413 gun-related deaths in 2021. And on a side note, the United States of America’s firearm homicide rate is nearly 23 times higher than Australia’s.
The right to bear arms vs. gun control is a slippery slope that could eventually inspire the bipartisan implementation of Maine’s “Yellow Flag” law in many states. The “Yellow Flag” law is a watered-down version of the “Red Flag” gun control bill that was passed by the House and Senate during the Summer of 2022. “Red Flag” legislation is currently used by 17 U.S. states, including the three with the most mass shootings on record: California, Illinois, and Florida. It gives law enforcement the right to legally disarm individuals who they deem a threat to society because of their mental instability. Although the “Red Flag” law does not completely strip Americans of their Second Amendment rights, it has received a substantial amount of pushback from organizations that support the rights of gun owners, such as the N.R.A., which remains wholeheartedly against “Red Flag” laws. As of now, it is not clear how many states will be on board for “Red Flag” laws or the slightly more lenient “Yellow Flag” laws going into 2023. Still, with control of the House and marginal authority over the Senate, the DNC is expected to prioritize the agenda come January. According to reports, 86% of Americans would endorse establishing “Red Flag” laws. But just over 50% of Americans actually want a ban on assault weapons.
Today, the technicality and legality behind an individual’s right to defend themselves are at the forefront of America, much like rock music, rap music, video games, and the tv/film industry. So, while lawmakers, scholars, activists, and traditionalists battle for a solution, kids/teens remain stuck in the social crossfire, where they are being highly influenced daily. “Ghost guns” and lawful firearms are landing in the hands of children/teens. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for kids in America. More than 3,597 American kids died from gun violence last year. The reasons why are stacking up higher than the fatalities. Perhaps another year or two on America’s timeline will finally yield a compromise that keeps everyone’s rights protected along with their children.