We need to do better.

There’s a lot that can be said, and has been said, about the awful act of terrorism that happened in Orlando, Florida, almost two weeks ago. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say about this, or whether I even want to say anything, because I’ve never thought of my blog as having a political focus.

But the thing is, everything is political. Politics inform our everyday lives; they inform my daily life, no matter how politically inactive or ignorant I may be.

To be honest, I’m not the most politically savvy person. I have my beliefs about what should be considered human rights and about what is just, but I don’t always pay close attention to the policies being developed around me. It’s easy for me to live in a bubble, nowadays, because there are so many distractions. I have my job(s), my social life, my aspirations. I have devices that let me pick and choose what I see and hear. When something awful happens, I feel sympathy and distress and sadness, but, if I’m not directly affected, it’s too easy to let that event slip from my mind over time.

That kind of inattention isn’t doing anyone any good though. I want to do better. I want to start changing this country with my voice and my actions. I want to be active in my beliefs. Because there is too much hatred and gun violence in America right now. There has been for a while, and it needs to stop. We need better gun control laws.

I have many thoughts on what’s been going on in the media, in the world, and in the government in the wake of the shootings in Orlando (and in the larger wake of the hundreds to thousands of shootings in America that have happened in recent years). Many of these thoughts are half-formed and need to be researched. What I do know and believe is that:

  • We should remember that terrorism can come from within this country. The word “terrorist” often evokes the image of a Muslim extremist, an “Other,” but the shooter was born and raised in the United States. And many of the innocent people who are killed in this country are not killed by members or associates of a foreign fundamentalist regime. I think we all need to be reminded that there are plenty of white terrorists here too. There was the man who shot Christina Grimmie the day before the shooting in Pulse. There was Sandy Hook. There was Columbine. Most of the time, Americans die at the hands of other Americans. If we want to make our country safer, we should be limiting access to guns, not building walls or banning certain religious or ethnic groups.
  • The shooting in Orlando was both an act of terrorism and a hate crime. There is no need to choose between one term or the other. This shooting was both. The LGBTQ community was clearly being targeted, but some media outlets have failed in recognizing that the victims were part of the LGBTQ community. People who identify as LGBTQ have been made invisible throughout history; we need to stop condoning their erasure, OUR erasure. Because, although it is easy for me to “pass” as straight, I am a part of the LGBTQ community. If my sexual preferences were magically made visible to everyone, there are some people who would consider me “other” and would condemn me, or even hurt me, for them.
  • NO CIVILIAN NEEDS AN ASSAULT RIFLE. Assault rifles are weapons of war; as Merriam-Webster puts it, they are “designed for military use.” They are weapons of mass destruction, because that is truly what they allow. Something that provides the ability to injure or kill a hundred individuals in the span of a few hours cannot be painted as anything other. At the very minimum, the United States of America needs to ban the sale of assault rifles to civilians, with no exceptions. This is just common sense.
  • The National Rifle Association (NRA) has grown too powerful. We need to vote out the members of government who are being backed by the NRA. We need to ensure that no one organization can hold this much power over members of the United States government, an entity that is supposed to protect the people, not corporations. The NRA is not fighting for the second amendment by fighting against an assault rifle ban. And it is not fighting for the second amendment by fighting against more stringent background checks for people buying guns. The NRA is fighting for money and power for itself; the more guns that are sold, the more the NRA profits. And the reason why the NRA is winning is because it has found ways to mobilize a minority to speak as if it is the majority.

But it’s too easy for me to talk about what this country needs to do to change for the better without actually participating in making that progress happen. While I firmly believe that conversation does spark change and that the simple act of putting my voice out there is a political action, sometimes a spark isn’t enough and sometimes words aren’t enough.

So I’m going to start with my money. Money is, unfortunately, the reason why the NRA is so powerful; they have a tremendous amount of wealth to throw behind politicians who care more about their personal bank accounts than about the well-being of their citizens. While I am certainly not a millionaire, I have enough disposable income that I can afford to donate to gun control nonprofits. So I will. And I encourage anyone else with disposable income to do the same. I’ve decided to donate to Everytown for Gun Safety because they seem to be the gun control group with the best chance of standing up to the NRA. They have numbers, and they have a loud presence. And I think that’s what this country needs most of all right now.

Of course, money is not the only way to start fighting the NRA. Arguably, the best way is to vote. I say that as someone who has failed to vote in the past. And my city, state, and country have likely paid for this failure, as have I. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start making my voice heard now. I acknowledge that voting in the U.S. can be very difficult for some people because of racist or unfair policies, lack of accessibility, or, simply, inconvenience. But, please, if there is nothing else you can do, but you can vote, go out and do that. Vote for people who have their citizens’ well-being as their primary motivation. Vote for people who will stand for what is right.

(One excellent resource for seeing whether your representative is backed by the NRA is WhoIsMyVoice.com. It’s a very quick and very clear means of checking up on your elected officials. And BallotReady.org informs you about each of the representatives up for election on your ballot [although I’m not sure if Ballot Ready has information for ballots in all states yet].) 

We need to keep the issue of gun control in the public eye, so that it doesn’t keep slipping from the minds of people like me, people who have grown up with gun violence being the status quo and who have subconsciously accepted this current environment as a fact of life. When I first heard of the shooting in Orlando, I was devastated and sad and angry, but I was not shocked. The fact that a mass shooting is no longer a surprising event should be enough to alert everyone in this country that something has gone horribly wrong. We as a country have become desensitized to gun violence. Each one of us tacitly accepts the existence of civilian-owned assault rifles and the lax regulations on gun ownership, and, subsequently, we accept the fact that hundreds of fellow citizens will likely die each year because of the former. But, to see an already oppressed community be further oppressed in a horrifically violent fashion; to hear a woman’s voice break when she listens to her fifteen-year-old sister talk about regularly plotting escape routes, just in case someone starts shooting within her school; to feel terror at the budding realization that shootings are commonplace now and our government is still unwilling to do anything about it; all of that pierces the fog of desensitization. While gun violence may impact each of us to different degrees, we are ALL negatively impacted.

All of that being said, my heart goes out to all of the victims of the Orlando shooting and to all of their loved ones. I hope that all of you are getting what you need, whatever it may be. I am so sorry for your losses and your pain and your heartbreak. I want to help this country do better, so this will never happen again. My love to you all.

(If you would like to donate to the victims of the Pulse shooting, you can do so here.) 

And much love to you, dear readers. I hope you are all safe and remain so.

—S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

P.S. The conclusions and beliefs that I’ve drawn in my post come from a variety of sources. Here is a list of some of the articles that I’ve consulted, in case you’d like to read them yourself:

P.P.S: If you’d like to experience the podcasts that have influenced me, here is a list of the episodes I have listened to that directly address the shootings in Orlando and the aftermath. You may find that they are all part of the Maximum Fun podcast group, because that’s my primary source for podcasts. (Additionally, some of these may be NSFW; my sense of humor tends toward the respectfully raunchy and I gravitate toward podcasts that share that tendency.)

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