The debate over gun control has weighed heavy on American minds in 2013 as the country reeled from the devastating mass shootings that took place in 2012.
The debate has been nearly as dominant in news and political discussion as the events that sparked it. A recent Pew Research survey showed that despite a significant decrease in gun violence over the last 20 years, a majority of Americans perceive an increase.
It is not difficult to see why that would happen with the way American media culture has evolved over the last two decades. News stories can become pretty consuming when not confined to newspapers and a few minutes during a news broadcast; it’s not as easy to ignore a high-profile story when it is dominating your Twitter feed or fueling an intense debate between your best friend and your co-worker on Facebook.
There have been rallies, gun buybacks, pleas from families of victims and legislation has been proposed and rejected.
Has it all been in vain? More than that, have people been running with the heat of a moment to turn a rare event into a case for major reform?
Maybe, but, is that a bad thing?
Here is another statistic: Between February and December of 2012, the U.S. saw seven mass shootings—the most in the last three decades.
That means that not only were mass shooting being covered excessively by news and social media, but they were actually happening more often than Americans had seen over the past 30 years. A year with a mass shooting approximately every 50 days sounds more than rare.
It also sounds like more than enough of a reason to start talking about gun control seriously.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart recently presented a three-part series on the subject, in which it took a comedic but valid look at the gun control laws in Australia.
Sweeping gun legislation came in 1996 after the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history when 35 people were killed and 23 were injured at a Tasmanian resort. The legislation was met with fierce opposition quite similar to the contention seen in the U.S. Since then, the country has not seen one mass shooting.
Before the law, Australia had seen 13 mass shootings over an 18-year period. The statistics showed that those types of tragedies were even rarer than in the U.S.
Obviously, Australia is a different nation with different politics and a different Constitution. Still, it is an example of change that came out of human emotion. The idea that mass shootings are infrequent, therefore the debate is an unwarranted one only holds up until the next tragedy consumes the news we read and the social media we use.
The bottom line is, regardless of numbers, the stories of the past year are what sparked the gun control push.
People felt something because of what they saw and a push for change came of it because they never wanted to see it happen again. The horrific tragedies in Aurora and Newtown evoke emotions in nearly everyone, no matter what their stance on gun access may be.
Seeking out and calling for methods of prevention after tragic incidents is not an overreaction. It is a human reaction.
We are human beings. We are not statistics, and at some point, that fact has to be a more important factor in beginning a gun control debate.
At a certain point, seeing the faces of 20 first-graders and their teachers who were shot to death with an assault weapon has to be a bigger call for action than the statistics.