Opinion | American desensitization to gun violence calls for strict regulations


AP Photo | Eric Gay

Reggie Daniels pays his respects at a memorial at Robb Elementary School on June 9, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas, created to honor the victims killed in the recent school shooting. As mass shootings are again drawing public attention, states across the U.S. seem to be deepening their political divide on gun policies. A series of recent mass shootings in California come after a third straight year in which U.S. states recorded more than 600 mass shootings involving at least four deaths or injuries.

By Emily O'Neil, Staff Columnist

The United States recorded more than 50 mass shootings already in 2023. In the U.S., gun restrictions vary from state to state. However, in most states, there are not enough regulations, especially when you consider that 647 mass shootings occurred in 2022 and more than 44,000 people died from gun violence. 

The lack of gun regulations in the U.S. leads to preventable deaths and negatively impacts the quality of students’ education, mental health and feelings of safety. Our current and future generations are growing up with a constant sense of unease and fear that they must look over their shoulder at all times. 

The first time I became aware of the threat of gun violence was when I was 10 years old watching the chaos unravel on the news during the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. My family is from New England, so the idea that this violence was close to home was shocking. It made me question reality and think about the potential of a similar tragedy happening to my family.

This tragedy eventually culminated in a mass amount of anxiety for myself, my many family members working in schools and my younger cousins once they were able to attend school. Through sharing my fears, I unfortunately found that my friends and those close to me have reiterated the same fears.

The awareness I gained after the Sandy Hook shooting sparked an interest for me in advocacy. In spring 2018, I was 15 and a first-year in high school when the Parkland school shooting occurred at a school in Florida. Shortly after, I attended a Students Demand Action march, which opened my eyes to the profound impacts these senseless shootings had on communities across the country. As it was my first march, it was a surreal moment for me, and I realized the impact that a person can have on a movement — even if they have not been directly affected by it.

Other countries have acted quickly to implement laws meant to reduce gun-related deaths. For example, just a day after the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings in New Zealand where 51 people were killed, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that gun laws would be amended. New Zealand’s parliament voted less than a month later to ban all military-style semi-automatic weapons. The United Kingdom tightened its gun laws after a mass shooting in 1996, banning most private handgun ownership. The country’s gun deaths subsequently dropped by almost 25% over a decade. 

The U.S. could do the same, but the landscape of guns in America makes the task a bit more difficult. 

In the U.S., there are around 393 million privately owned firearms — about 120 guns for every 100 Americans. The precise number of civilian-owned firearms is unknown due to various factors, including unregistered weapons, illegal trading and global conflict. Many individuals are fatigued with the lack of real solutions for the continuous and seemingly endless cycle of violence that moves quickly through the media. We should not be accustomed to the regularity of mass shootings, but the reality is that it’s desensitizing society

Mass shootings lead to higher rates of depression and anxiety and increase risks of suicide in young adults. They also lead to an overall decline in a community’s sense of well-being. 

Research by teams of cognitive psychologists shows that, in many cases, the more individuals who die in the event of mass violence, the less others show interest or care. They call this the “deadly arithmetic of compassion.” Sheehan Fisher, an assistant professor of psychology and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine, said, “We can have a muted emotional response to horrible events given the frequency of exposure to catastrophic news, because we start to become accustomed to high stress and accept the occurrence of fear-inspiring events, as if it is the new normal.”

An individual’s attention is a scarce resource in today’s society. Time passes and we are inclined to shift our attention elsewhere if we do not see any progress. The quick switch that occurs on our news and social media feeds allows for the issue of gun violence to only be relevant for a short amount of time right after an attack occurs.

We don’t have to live like this. The U.S. can create stricter gun regulations to stop these continually occurring tragedies. We need to realize that this continuous cycle of political polarization and partisan divide has detrimental effects on all of us. We finally need to say enough is enough. 

Emily O’Neil writes primarily about societal issues, politics and campus life. Write to her at [email protected].