Ashleigh Atwell

Ashleigh Atwell: We must do more than think and pray

On Nov. 5, a group of people met up to do what a lot of people in the South do on Sundays: go to church. The congregants who were attending services at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas probably had mundane plans for their day after service. Some might have gone out for a meal, others would head home to take a nap or watch a football game. Sadly, any expectations they might have had were shattered when Devin Patrick Kelly stormed into their church and open fire. Twenty-six souls left this earth and numerous others will bear physical and mental scars.

I was on the train, mindlessly scrolling through my phone, when I saw the news. My reaction? Another day, another mass shooting. Mass shootings have become so commonplace that I barely feel anything when I hear about them. I empathize with the families and victims, but I’ve come to expect these acts like the weather or traffic reports on the 5 o’clock news. I’m used to it.

Anyone reading this might think I’m cold-hearted, but it has taken a while for me to get here. There was a time when a mass shooting would happen and I would be consumed with rage and sorrow. I would share all the prayer memes, get into countless debates about mental illness and guns and keep my eyes glued to the media for updates. I would watch as government officials release statements and tweets expressing care and concern and wait around to see if we would finally get adequate gun control. Then, Sandy Hook happened.

Twenty first-graders and six adults were killed and I thought, “This is it. The government will finally do something about this.” I thought the deaths of 20 children could draw enough outrage for tangible change, but nothing happened. People expressed the usual thoughts and prayers and life went on.

Then, it happened again. And again and again. Still, nothing has changed. We’re still having the same debates and people are still only praying and thinking. The government has done nothing about it, and as long as Trump is in office, it won’t get better. Like other government officials, Trump deflected from the real issue by saying, “We have a lot of mental health problems in our country, but this isn’t a gun situation.”

Wrong. Even then, this country doesn’t do shit to help mentally ill people either. This is a gun problem and there is another problem: white male entitlement. The majority of these acts are perpetrated by white men and America enables them. If the gunman is black, they’re a thug. If a Muslim or Arab person does it, they’re a terrorist. But when white men do it, they get empathy. They’re portrayed as loners who had some bad luck.

A few months ago, I wrote that love isn’t the answer to fighting hate and bigotry. I want to express a similar sentiment for gun control. Thoughts and prayers are useless. I’m sure the congregation at First Baptist Church did a lot of praying. Another mass shooter, Dylann Roof, sat through a bible study at Emanuel AME before taking out his gun. We have been praying and thinking for too long.

It is time to act.