We need to stop scaring ourselves

On Feb. 18, two Burnsville police officers and one firefighter/paramedic were killed in a shooting that started out as an investigation into a domestic incident.

Feb. 18 was also the day “The Weight of the Crown” (about the shooting and recovery of former police officer Arik Matson) was shown in Ostrander Auditorium in Minnesota State’s Centennial Student Union. With so many police officers present, the Burnsville shooting weighed heavily on everyone.

The topic of gun control is a fraught one. Fewer countries love their guns more than the United States. But there are plenty of reasons why the topic needs to be addressed.

I was in high school when Columbine happened. I remember the way fear gripped people afterward. First my school banned backpacks before changing the rules to allow students to bring in clear or netted bags. There were even mass shooting drills.

Since Columbine the issue of mass shootings has gripped the United States in a state of paralyzing terror.

What I am going to be arguing here is probably going to sound counterintuitive but allow me to put forth two seemingly contradictory positions.

One is that the United States needs stronger regulations on the sale and possession of firearms.

My second position is that we probably over sensationalize, and hyper focus on, the issue of mass shootings.

In fact, we probably spend way too much time scaring ourselves. More conservative media too often tells viewers they should be terrified of minorities, be they immigrants or transgender people. Meanwhile, more liberal media often seems to be telling us that we could all be killed at any moment in a mass shooting.

Neither is really promoting a healthy or balanced perspective. Ironically, in fact, liberal media over-obsessing about mass shootings appears likely to be leading to overall support for better gun control decreasing in the United States.

When you scare people enough it appears it just drives them to wanting to buy more guns to protect themselves. While overall support for better gun control laws has remained over 50% according to Gallup polling, the strongest period of support for better gun control laws was during the 1990’s, when there existed less media coverage of mass shootings.

In any event, one would imagine gun control would bring a large number of groups together. For example, both those who support law enforcement and those groups that support criminal justice reform, such as Black Lives Matter, should be able to support gun control.

Efforts to reduce gun violence should not only make it safer for police officers to do their jobs (and thus reduce the number of incidents like the Burnsville shooting) but also reduce the number of people killed in officer-involved shootings. According to the Washington Post’s database on police shootings, which has collected data since 2015, 83% of those killed in a police officer involved shooting were armed.

There are several things that can and need to be done. One thing would be to repeal the Dickey Amendment, as it effectively banned the Center for Disease Control from researching gun violence. If the National Rifle Association, which advocated for the amendment, really believed firearms protected people from violent crime, it would have to object to the repeal of the amendment.

A second thing that needs to be done would be to bring back the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, popularly known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

But most importantly, we need to let our fear go. We need to stop fearing this world and those who are different from us. Firearms are tools and, when used correctly, there are places they can be useful.

Most importantly, we should not allow fear to drive us to reject reasonable regulations that could save lives.

Header photo: Courtesy of Jeremy Redlien

Write to at Jeremy Redlien

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