The Aurora movie theatre shooting has left a hole in our Colorado Community. We are disgusted by this hopeless act of violence. We have witnessed this violence before. From the mountains of Afghanistan to the sands of Iraq, we have seen countless lives destroyed for nothing. But this is not just a Colorado problem. Its not even an American problem. It is a human problem that we all need to solve together.
Violence is a part of American culture. We see it everyday in our media and movies. We are desensitized to it. Through video games and CNN war videos, we have a warped view of violence. We see it as a game. People who are killed in movies rarely show the blood or after effects of trauma. As Americans we are raised to believe violence is effective at solving problems. As Veterans, our experience has revealed the truth: violence only encourages more violence. Whether it be the police and prison system, Homeland Security or the United States Military we as a society believe violence is effective.
Veterans understand better than anyone the results of violence. We were taught to use violence for almost any situation within the military. From the soldier kicking in the doors to the airmen pumping gas it all comes down to one purpose: to kill the enemy. The American people hold Veterans up on a pedestal because of the violence that they do in their name. We spend more money on the military than any other country in the world. We sell more weapons overseas than any country in the world. It is no wonder that violence is thus accepted as a reasonable choice.
We as Veterans are trained to use guns. Many of us have them ourselves. We had to go through extensive training and safety education before we were allowed to use them. We carried unloaded rifles around for three weeks during basic training before we were given a bullet to fire. We learn the contours of the rifle better than the contours of our own body. We also know that guns are unforgiving. Once used you cannot go back. In combat, whoever lives and dies is not based on how good or virtuous you are. Its based on luck. Its luck that we survived the war and our friends did not. Do we want to live in a world where everyone carries a gun? Do we desire to live in a zero-sum environment where we solve our problems with lead instead of conversation? Do we want to live in a culture based on the luck of the draw?
Many Veterans recognize the importance of the 2nd Amendment because the government should not have all the guns. All Americans have the right to defend themselves from their government and other Americans. We also recognize that Americans who do not have guns have a right to be safe from those who do. While we are individuals in this country, we are also part of a larger community whether we want to acknowledge it or not. We drive on public roads and use public libraries. We go to stores that are public spaces and there are rules we all follow for safety. Nothing we do happens in a vacuum. We are accountable to each other if only for our own safety. When you exercise your rights they are limited only by their infringement on others’ rights.
Veterans recognize that keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous members of society will not fix the problem completely. Around the world we see gun violence in countries that have more restrictive gun laws than ours. However, we see a pattern with the assailants. They don’t fit into society. They have something lacking in their community. Because this violence happens in our community to people of our community, this is our problem as well.
There is something very wrong with a culture when our youth lash out against people they don’t even know. These young people have only begun living and they are choosing to end their own lives and the lives of others. Every time a massacre happens we call them a “lone gunman” or “bad apple”. This changes the debate and prevents us from having a conversation about WHY it happened. Until we begin viewing our world as inter-dependent we are doomed to repeat these mistakes.
We in Colorado only live here because of a legacy of violence. Our ancestors violently stole this land from indigenous peoples and claimed it for their own. The legacy of the cowboy is alive and well here. Our culture has military recruiters in our high schools. It is easier to buy a gun than to get mental health support or treatment. If a homeless person tries to sleep in the city of Denver they are arrested. Over 60,000 active duty military members are stationed here in Colorado and entire communities depend on them for economic stability. We are surrounded by violence in our history and our present day. We just choose not to acknowledge it. We change the channel and switch the song until something so abhorrent, so utterly unforgivable and obvious happens that we cant ignore it. And when this happens, as it so regularly does in our country today, our grief and anguish is compounded by the fact that we have no solutions. We know that this will happen again and we feel so helpless. So alone.
We can all do better. We can begin by talking with our neighbors, our children, our parents. We can demand transparency from our institutions. We can build community systems that replace the failed institutions we now live under. We can take ownership of our streets, our blocks, our cities and eventually our world. We can begin to forgive and love. We must stop talking and start listening to each other. No more silence. No more lies. We need to confront our fear and learn to love one another. We have a choice. We can choose to look in the mirror, or we can change the channel. No great cultural shift ever happens in isolation. We can build a new world together. We can challenge all our old ideas and make them better. We can grow and evolve and change our future. Nothing is written. We can start today. Democracies die behind closed doors.