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It's Time to Act to End the Gunshot Lottery

by on August 08, 2019 4:30 AM

The morning I wrote this column I was alive because no one shot and murdered me at a school, or church, or a mall. It is the shooting lottery we play every day in America. We are all playing the odds, because in America millions of people possess the weapons to show up open fire and kill us or our loved ones. 

The fact is that we have a problem with gun violence and ending it requires sincere intent in our hearts. Just reading a speech off a teleprompter won’t do it; particularly when you look as insincere as a school kid writing “I will express concern” 100 times on the blackboard as assigned by the teacher.

For some gun rights proponents, the Second Amendment is a sacred right, but witness the carnage in El Paso and Dayton and that right comes with a cost. The sacrifice of innocent men, women and children being gunned down is a continuing price we pay for the kind of gun access we have in our country. Even after the murder of so many young children in Sandy Hook, some powerful politicians stood in the way of meaningful change.

Again we follow the same repetitive sequence after every mass shooting. And as people rush to debate the issues in the immediate aftermath some will say it is “too soon” to get political or to cast blame. But given that we have mass shootings on such a regular basis, there is a small window before the next “too soon” rolls around.

Once in America we solved big problems. Now we kick cans down the road to days of reckoning in mass shootings in El Paso, Gilroy, Dayton, Pittsburgh...

In the days since El Paso and Dayton each group has gone on to blame issues to distract and draw attention away from what they are trying to protect. The talking points are familiar and well-rehearsed.

Pro-gun groups blame video games, mental health, a lack of family values or a lack of religion. Gun control groups blame guns, background check loopholes and assault rifles. Others blame hate groups. Some admonish politicians and a president who winks at divisive rhetoric and remains silent as rally chants build to a hateful chorus.

There is no one root cause. We face a range of asymmetrical threats. To end senseless gun violence we all must cross uncompromising battle lines drawn by the cash of agenda-driven lobbyists. 

Closing loopholes on background checks and enacting red flag protections do not end the Second Amendment. Protecting responsible gun ownership for law-abiding citizens for sport and hunting is not promoting violence on our streets either. Improving mental health is a smart investment in our nation’s future. Shutting down dehumanizing rhetoric that implies a call for violence against others does not mean the end of free speech. 

We have incredible access to the mental and physical weapons of mass destruction. Minds are poisoned by venomous hate on social media, and guns are readily available. Racial and ethnic tensions are fueled by both homegrown and foreign social media forces looking to divide us. It is working.

For non-whites, this is a scary time to be in America and to raise a family amid repeated potential threats. White nationalist rhetoric of days past is being normalized, going beyond mere words and lighting a fuse in weak-minded sheep.

We are cowards if we tolerate the rhetoric which drives these types of acts. 

But we must recognize our current reality. The convergence of hate speech, anger and violent weaponry create opportunities to act on our worst impulses with devastating results. We face an elevated threat level, one that exploded in El Paso. 

It remains a threat.

In the aftermath of El Paso the president and his supporters complain that he is being lumped in with white nationalists and say that this was the act of one man. But remember the president’s path to the White House began with his escalator descent into conspiracy scapegoating Mexican immigrants for rapes, drugs and murders. This is a man who has cast blame on all Muslims for the actions of a few. Scapegoating groups is the lazy mind’s way out, cutting both ways and spreading seeds of distrust.

Our seeds of discord bear bitter fruit, but innocent people are the ones being cut down.

The time for talk is over. The “too soon” defense is a tired excuse for inaction. The time to act is upon us to end the spreading contagion of gun massacres. 

We are a country that has a history of big solutions for big problems. We can solve these threats if we recognize all the threatening factors and if we are all willing to cross the lines we’ve drawn. Or we maintain the status quo, re-electing politicians rendered immovable by an obesity fed by the special interest money buffet. 

But just remember that our children will rise again tomorrow only because they were not in the wrong place and time on the wrong side of a man wielding murderous intent and a weapon of destruction. If we don’t fight for something better, we continue playing the odds hoping our daily gunshot lottery number never gets pulled.

State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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