Thoughts and prayers alone will not end this country’s constant cycle of terror


Witnesses of he shooting in Las Vegas walk to the hospital to try and find information on a friend | Photo courtesy of Gregory Bull/AP

By The Easterner, Editorial Board

Note: An earlier version of this editorial ran in issue 3 of volume 101 of The Easterner. It has been updated accordingly for the most recent mass shooting that took place on Nov. 5., which killed 26 people in a rural Texas town and is the fifth deadliest mass shooting in United States history. It has been 35 days since the most deadly mass shooting in our nation’s history. This should not be normal. This cannot be normal. But it is.

During an early Sunday afternoon in Sutherland Springs, Texas, an unincorporated community with a population of roughly 600 people, a 26-year-old man dressed in all black and wearing a tactical vest began shooting his assault rifle inside a church in the middle of mass. He fired upon churchgoers for roughly six minutes before law enforcement arrived on the scene, later committing suicide in his car.

At least 26 people were killed and over 20 were injured in what is now the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history and the fifth deadliest in the history of our great but flawed country, wiping out four percent of the Sutherland Springs population in the blink of an eye. Two of the five most deadly mass shootings in the history of this country, which celebrated its 241st birthday in July, have now occurred in a span of 35 days.

In the direct aftermath of a tragedy like this, politicians will urge citizens to mourn for the victims, and send out thoughts and prayers. Don’t get me wrong—thoughts and prayers are important. These victims and their families will never be the same after such a horrific event. But thoughts and prayers are not what we need most, but rather something to actually change.

Because the gun toll on America is simply too massive. In 2014, 11,961 Americans were killed in gunshot homicides, according to the F.B.I. That means the death rate from such homicides is 31 per million people. In all, 27 people are shot dead each day in the United States. For reference: In Germany, the death rate from gun homicides is two per million people, or as common as being killed by a falling object in the US.

To take it a step further: If we were to wait the proper amount of time to mourn, we’d never get anything done. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as incidents where three or more people were shot, regardless if anyone was killed or not. So far there have been 274 days in 2017, and 273 mass shootings.

The worst part of the Sutherland Springs tragedy is the frequency. The most fatal mass shootings in modern American history are: Sutherland Springs (2017), Sandy Hook (2012), Virginia Tech (2007), Orlando (2016) and Las Vegas (2017). As college-age students, that means we have been alive for our country’s five worst mass shootings.

That is horrifying. In a way, though, they’re starting to feel a bit normal. And that’s not okay. Gun homicides aren’t supposed to be commonplace. But in America, they are.

When a tragedy like this occurs, the response from citizens is to tell each other “not to politicize” the event. This needs to stop. For some, when politics is brought up, an image of talking heads arguing nonsensically comes to mind. But we need to stop using ‘politicizing’ as some sort of slur.

Instead of thoughts and prayers, politicians should be focused on taking definitive action. And citizens need to ensure their politicians do so. Politics are precisely what have and will enact change.

And there is a question that we all need to be asking ourselves — why is America the only Western society with this damning problem?

Yes, we should mourn. But we also need to act. As it has become abundantly and painstakingly clear with this latest tragedy, prayers are not enough. They never have been.

On “CBS This Morning” on Nov. 6, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott was asked what could be done to prevent tragedies such as Sutherland Springs in the future.

“I’m going to use the words of the citizens of Sutherland Springs themselves, and that is, they want to work together for love to overcome evil, and you do that by working with God,” Abbott said.

According to Gov. Abbott, the official policy for the executive branch of the state of Texas when it comes to preventing mass shootings and other tragedies is by working with God. The 26 people in Sutherland Springs died in a church in the middle of mass.

“All of America is praying to God to help the wounded and the families — we will never ever leave their side,” said President Donald Trump on Sunday.

But the federal government already has, Mr. President. It left their side many years ago, before their lives were even taken in a senseless and preventable tragedy.