Letter: We are not helpless against gun violence


I’m sure I am not alone in feeling many emotions after the killing of children in Uvalde, Texas last month. I have experienced sadness, anger, fear, and helplessness. Sadness that children and adults died in such a violent, sudden manner; sadness for mothers, fathers, and children left behind with gaping holes in their souls; and sadness that this death toll is a shockingly small percent of gun violence deaths in this country. Anger that we can’t seem to get this right as a country. Fear that this could happen to my children — at school or the grocery store or the movie theater. And finally, helplessness. This is perhaps the most uncomfortable emotion and the one that can lead to the worst outcome — standing still, doing nothing.

I am a psychologist by trade and very familiar with learned helplessness. This is when you do nothing to help yourself, even though you could, because you learned that what you do does not matter. This is an understandable reaction to gun violence in America because — no matter what political beliefs you have — the hard truth is that, despite efforts, we are still experiencing a lot of gun violence and firearm deaths.

The purpose of my letter, then, is to urge you — the reader — to avoid going along with learned helplessness … It does not matter what you believe is the root of the gun violence problem or how you believe it should be addressed — for some, this is commonsense gun legislation; for others, this is greater focus on mental health; for still others, this is improving our educational system or working to build up spiritual/religious communities; and the list goes on.

We will never all agree on how to fix this problem and its many correlated issues in our diverse society. We should not wait to agree or convince others to believe what we believe or wait until our beliefs are validated somehow ... rather, let’s put our energy, time, and money into whatever we believe is

contributory. Gun violence and firearm deaths, as well as loneliness, neglect, not belonging, all of these hard experiences are multi-factorial … addressing these difficulties requires a multi-factorial approach. We need ministers, teachers, firearm safety advocates, commonsense gun legislation activists; we need all of these bases to be covered to address the factors that culminate in an unspeakable tragedy like what happened last month in Uvalde. Please. Do something.

Susan Johnston



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