This past Sunday, my family and I went to church for my younger brother and sister’s confirmation. It signified the fourth of the Holy Sacraments, validating a short lifetime of religious instruction. As an adult I find myself skeptical, somewhere between atheism and agnosticism. However, the joy of coming together with family to celebrate a milestone was special, even if my spiritual connection to the event had drained.
During my siblings’ confirmation, a day meant for family, appreciation, and love, I had one constant thought haunting my mind. I fixated on what my course of action would be had a shooter walked in and opened fire. Seated next to my youngest sister, my hypothetical priority would have been to save her. I wondered if I would duck under the seat and have us both crawl to an exit. Maybe I would have her play dead and hope she was still breathing when the bullets ran out. Perhaps, and most realistically, I would freeze. My sister and mine’s fate would be entirely dependent on the shooter and sheer luck would be what would stand between us and another day. The depressing aspect of it all is my persistent thought of a potential slaughter has been reduced to normalcy in our country.
It is difficult for me to think of any year in recent memory where that has not been at least one major shooting at a house of worship. From the tragedy at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC in 2015, all the way through the shooting at the Synagogue in Poway, California just over a week ago. Religious places of worship now have an established precedent of being targets for a bloody massacre. We’re now a country where it’s impossible to live without a looming fear of dying at the hands of a gunman. The sad reality is schools, hospitals, movie theaters, and any other location where citizens publicly exist are liable to be the site of a mass shooting.
On the first of May, a shooting at UNC Charlotte left two people dead and four others injured. In the days since we’ve learned of a heroic student named Riley Howell. Riley was killed while knocking over the shooter, and saving his classmates in the process. He was 21 years old and gambled his life to save his peers. We should all feel utter shame that a college student was put in such a horrifying position. We should feel just as shameful for anyone else affected by the 104 mass shootings in 2019 alone. The murdered, the wounded, and the traumatized all deserved better than to be abandoned by their leaders.
America claims itself as the land of the free. A truly free individual should be able to gather with their fellow citizens without one eye aimed at the closest exit. I am exhausted watching my fellow Democrats kowtow to the Republican narrative on gun control. We’re told not to politicize tragedies, as if our peace of mind isn’t worth fighting for. We’re guilted into having a historical respect for the second amendment, as if a reexamination is sacrilege.
Riley Howell should be preparing for final exams right now. Yet we’ve allowed his name to be added to a long list of people whose lives were cut too soon. The unwillingness of our politicians to take a stand on portable weapons of tragedy is an indefensible contradiction with our too often assumed greatness. A great country shouldn’t bind itself to a biased reading of an outdated code. A great country should question its past, its founders, and progress by what’s appropriate for the current time. A great country shouldn’t cloak its citizens in fear while their leaders shrug at an ocean of blood.
Kenneth Belvin is a candidate vying to represent Congressional District 16 in 2020.