In Colleges and Cleveland, One Lethal Similarity

What do 10 college students and three children in Cleveland have in common?

They’re all dead — murdered by gunshots.

The students died yesterday, massacred at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon.

The children died over the past month. A drive-by shooting killed five-year-old Ramon Burnett Sept. 4, while he played football at his grandmother’s house. Major Howard, three years old, died when gunfire hit the car in which he sat Sept. 15. A girl was shot yesterday while riding in a car, quickly dying from her injuries.

She was six months old.

For all humanity’s faults — and despite Cleveland’s well-known violence — I never thought I would read that headline: “Baby killed in drive-by shooting on Cleveland’s east side.” Then followed so swiftly by another horror: “10 Dead in Shooting at Oregon College, Sheriff Says.”

Every major news outlet, from The New York Times to The Washington Post, has reported on the Oregon shooting. Social media rallied around the cause as well. #UCCShooting is trending on Twitter. Thousands of Facebook posts, angry and grieving, feature the same hashtag.

Dozens of those posts point out America’s epidemical school shootings. Columbine High School in 1999; Virginia Tech in 2007; and Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 are probably the best-known tragedies. Yet they are mere blades of grass in a garden, taller than their fellows but far from alone. Since Sandy Hook — Dec. 14, 2012 — at least 142 school shootings have occurred. That’s about one per week.

Broader gun violence statistics spur still more concerns. During President Obama’s second term, not one calendar week has passed without a mass shooting. (No wonder he’s frustrated.) Terrorism killed 3,521 people between 1970 and 2014; nearly 10,000 people have died from gun violence in 2015 already.

Ramon, Major and the baby girl are among those 10,000 — three children no national news outlet wrote about. I only know their stories because I’m from Cleveland. I follow local news sources, such as WKYC and cleveland.com. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have heard of those children. I would never have known they were dead, or what killed them.

There’s just too much death to report. With so much gun violence, news outlets pick and choose— and in a climate as bleak as ours, even infants’ murders don’t make the cut.

If anything, that makes the Oregon shooting more tragic. The 10 college students aren’t standalone victims of rare circumstance — they’re just the people in headlines. Countless other Americans die every day, unknown, for the same reason: our country’s gun control is incomplete and ineffective. Since the Sandy Hook shooting, a large majority of Americans — including gun owners — have supported stronger gun safety policies. Yet dozens of our congressmen have refused to pass any such measures. Instead, they bow to the National Rifle Association and stand by antiquated constitutional readings. The Second Amendment meant to create a citizens’ militia. America spent $610 billion on defense in 2014 — we don’t need a militia anymore.

Looking at other nations, we see visions of how we could live. Other industrialized countries’ gun homicide rates are at least 12 times lower than ours. Germany’s, for instance, is 50 times lower. In 2008, Japan had just 11 gun homicides, while America — like usual — had thousands. Australians grew nervous in 2012, when their gun homicides reached a five-year high — 44 that year.

Those nations have reasonable gun control laws. They protect their citizens, and in doing so, they put us to shame. While we compare ourselves to other countries in plenty of areas — GDP, test scores, life expectancy — we glide over gun control. The stubborn and self-absorbed who sit in Washington don’t want to hear it.

Every congressman who voted against gun safety reform should ache today. Although they pulled no triggers, they contributed to students’ and children’s deaths. Because of their deafness to America’s wants and needs — because of their absent empathy and common sense — some of the blame lies with them. 

Congress could have increased gun regulations, perhaps saving the 10 students killed in Oregon yesterday. Our legislature could have made lethal weapons harder to acquire, which may have given three children from Cleveland the chance to grow up. Instead, as a nation, we mourn yet again — just as we do every month, week and day. On national and local stages, congressmen are seeing the consequences of their inaction.

Those consequences lie in graveyards, in coffins large and small.