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I refuse to become accustomed

These views are my own and do not represent those of my employer.

On October 1st, 2015 a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College killing at least 10. This was the 294th mass shooting (a shooting with 4+ victims) this year, and we currently have had 20 more mass shootings than days of the year in 2015. Sadly, by the time you read this there is a good chance that this will be outdated, as the longest stretch the US has had this year without a mass shooting is eight days. This is a horrific statistic and what is pernicious about this level of violence is that we are becoming inured to it. In fact, mass shootings are becoming so common that the majority of them do not make the national news. They are becoming “business as usual
I refuse to accept this for myself, and I hope that we do not accept this as a country, as a democracy or as a society.

I want to place these numbers in a context so that we don’t just see them as a tally but rather so we can focus on the loss of life, and of potential, that they represent.  As of October 1, 2015 there have been 375 people killed in mass shootings in the US. In September of 2015, my institution Columbia University opened its gates to 1,406 new students in the class of 2019. The amount of people killed this year in mass shootings alone, would represents 26.7%of our incoming class. An additional 1089 people (74.2% of our incoming class) have been injured this year by mass shootings.

Think about that. More people have impacted by gun violence in mass shootings than our entire incoming class.  When we look at the total number of fatalities brought by gun violence this year, a total of 9,956 (again, a number sadly to be rapidly out of date), we see that more people have been killed than the entire undergraduate body at Columbia University (132% of the undergraduate population to be specific).

Think of the loss of what we could become as a country. The hopes, the dreams, the talent and the potential that these people had represent a tangible lessoning of who we are.

Yet there is still a large pushback against taking steps to staunch this loss of life. The sheriff who serves in the Oregon county where this shooting occurred, wrote a letter to Vice President Joe Biden after the Newton shooting saying that he would not enforce rules regarding gun control that he found unconstitutional. He was against limiting access to the guns which now have brought such pain to his electorate.

I am not a constitutional scholar, and I am not willing or able to get into a debate about how to interpret the second amendment. I am a scientist who deals with data. Much of my professional work has dealt with providing conservation information to managers so that they can have an informed and data driven approach to policy. Yet we do not have the data we need to take a similar approach towards gun violence in our own country. The congress has repeatedly threatened to strip the Centers for Disease Control of funding if they investigate guns as a threat to public health.  Without these data we cannot intelligently define the problem, and we cannot therefore craft effective policy.

Part of why I love science is that it a light with which we can illuminate the truth. When we as a society become so entrenched in our ideology that we prefer to live in the comfortable shadows of our ignorance, we have failed. I therefore urge you to follow the lead of other scientists and write your representatives in Congress and urge them to lift the de facto federal ban on studying gun violence. Write to them and let them know that tipping points do exist, that you are not comfortable acquiescing to this new baseline, and that you will not become accustomed. Write to them because I’m going to teach on Wednesday to a full classroom, something my peers at 45 schools that have had a mass shooting this year alone, are unable to do.

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