Empty promises echo loudest

Gun violence keeps happening and nothing changes

Musician Grandson wrote “Thoughts and Prayers” after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people and injured 17 others. Photo courtesy of Apple Music

California may have some tough gun laws, but that didn’t stop the latest mass shooting on Nov. 7 that left 12 people dead in Thousand Oaks from happening. It was the 307th mass shooting in 311 days, and while that seems like a lot, it’s on par with other years in America. When did that become unsurprising?

I’ve been increasingly annoyed by the statement of “thoughts and prayers.” I know that phrase can be a way to express sympathy when there is no other way, but it feels hollow now, especially when it comes from people in power who can actually help. Doing nothing is getting nothing done.

Alternative musician Jordan Benjamin, known as Grandson, wrote “Thoughts and Prayers” after being encouraged by teenagers who survived the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School earlier this year. I think his lyrics are especially powerful concerning this topic: “No thoughts, no prayers, can bring back what’s no longer there. The silent are damned. The body count is on your hands.”

According to USA Today, the Thousand Oaks shooter, Ian David Long, posted on Instagram during the shooting saying, “I hope people call me insane (two smiley face emojis) would that just be a big ball of irony? Yeah…I’m insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is ‘hopes and prayers’…or ‘keep you in my thoughts.’”

“Thoughts and prayers” has become the stock phrase of catastrophes, to the point that it is being mocked and I am sick of it. The empty rituals we engage in after tragedy need to end. Rather than fighting over gun control as an issue that never moves forward, we should be proactive instead of reactive. Let’s not wait until the next mass shooting to engage. The way it is now, who knows if the next shooting could happen in Michigan or here on campus? While mass shootings are the smallest percentage of gun-related incidents compared to suicide and other circumstances, it has certainly taken a stranglehold here, and it seems like every day we see more incidents like Thousand Oaks on our news feeds. How many deaths will it take for real change to happen?

I refuse to believe that this is our new normal. From classrooms, to places of worship, to news rooms, yoga studios, concerts and nightclubs, it seems like no place in America is truly safe or sacred anymore. I am so fatigued every time I read the names of people who died. This is not a faceless atrocity, and I’m scared that I have to check in to see if my friend is alive on Facebook when incidents happen. No one is exempt from tragedy, and my heart breaks for the families of survivors of the Las Vegas shooting who learned that their loved ones weren’t so lucky the second time around. If it were either of my brothers who died in a mass shooting, I don’t think I could cope. We need to do right by these families and all people affected by gun violence, and demand that things change.

I believe that the gun control debate spews toxic rhetoric from politicians that doesn’t produce enough results despite most Americans agreeing that regulations need to change in some way. They repeat the usual dance without following through, and the fervor drops off until the next shooting. I feel like we do nothing after a mass shooting because certain gun legislation measures challenge our national identity. What is it worth?

Gun culture in the U.S. is something that I continually struggle to understand, but that doesn’t mean I want to infringe on others rights. There is a middle ground, and we really need to take a hard look at our culture that produces circumstances that permit this to happen.

Next time a politician writes “thoughts and prayers,” hold them accountable to act on it.