Last week, there were six more needless deaths.
In a private school in Nashville, Tennessee, three children and three teachers were shot dead by a former student brandishing two assault-style weapons and a pistol, two of which were purchased legally.
We are deeply angered, we are discouraged and we feel helpless writing this editorial. We are selfishly fortunate enough to be distanced from this specific shooting, but we can’t help but ask: What can we do? What difference will any words on a printed page or an online newspaper make in preventing children from being killed by a banal evil?
We are just one part of a much larger machine, swooping in to give our take and scream it into the void, only to be forgotten before it all happens again and again and again.
We’ve written editorials about gun violence before and are certain we will write about it again. Because for as much as anyone shouts, “never again!” this will likely happen again.
And for anyone actually paying attention, it’s clear why.
Looking to the past to understand the present
Lobbying was originally designed as a way for public interest groups to present their ideas to legislators in an organized way such that every group’s opinion and suggestion was heard.
James Madison, the principal framer of our Constitution, was clear in his fear of factions (what we would call parties or interest groups today) and his wariness of unchecked majority rule. In Federalist 10, one of his most famous writings, he states although the causes of factions cannot be stopped, we can try to hinder their effects.
His solution (which we can thank political science professor Richard Matthews for explaining to us through his classes) is that all moneyed interest groups need to be represented publicly so that their voices are heard and no opinion is left to become unchecked dogma.
Today, these interest groups usually demonstrate their influence through lobbying and campaign donations. This is where we can see a connection to the unchanging nature of our gun laws today.
The gun lobby
According to OpenSecrets — a nonpartisan, nonprofit research group — that is how much the National Rifle Association spent on candidates during the 2020 election cycle. That is just one organization in one election cycle.
These donations weren’t only for Trump. Dozens of candidates from both parties received campaign funding from the NRA, leading to financial dependence on the organization for their reelection campaigns and effectively neutralizing them in the fight to regulate the sales of firearms.
Theoretically, any American citizen has the power to donate to politicians and create a financial incentive for their actions. Still, while $5 here and there adds up, it is difficult for grassroots gun control committees to raise anything close to pro-gun organizations.
This creates an unequal balance of power, and it shows.
When looking at the views of Americans on gun legislation, the data is not reflective of the highly partisan attitude we see in Congress.
According to Pew Research, 80% of Americans support gun reforms preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns or making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks, but reforms are unable to get passed through Congress.
The same study shows that 60% of people support bold measures to ban assault-style weapons (the same kind of weapon used in the Nashville shooting) or to create a federal database to track all gun sales.
Gun control, like many other issues in American politics today, is subject to the much larger and more insidious force that is money in politics. It puts a stranglehold on salient issues and reduces the law-making process to gridlock, regardless of public support.
So, what are you — what are we — supposed to do with this information?
Well, for one, the phone lines to your congresspeople are open and are constantly fielding calls from their constituents. We can’t control how much these complaint inboxes are tended to, but — as we know from one member of the editorial board who spent a summer as a congressional intern — there is always a real person with a real connection to a lawmaker on the other end of the line.
If engaging with the system isn’t your style, then make some noise. There are a plethora of organizations (like March for Our Lives at Lehigh, for example) that regularly host protests and fundraisers for stricter gun laws.
If you think these suggestions are futile, you may be right.
A couple of hundred extra protesters and a few more dollars towards an anemic fundraising campaign may feel like it does not make any real difference. But given how broken our legislative system is, what else can we do?
There is hope in numbers — perhaps a false hope — but hope nonetheless that if enough of us snap out of our nihilism for long enough to do what we can, we will make small steps in the right direction.
It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t glamorous, but as long as children are dying, doing nothing is not an option.