Schwartz: If I’m ever killed by a gun

Alex Schwartz, Assistant Opinion Editor

If I’m ever killed by a gun, please make sure my name appears nowhere near the words “thoughts and prayers.” I see it as an indignant way gun advocates try to convince us of their humanity, an attempt to distract us from the fact that a culture they have worked tirelessly to uphold has taken yet another group of innocent lives. Of course we’re all thinking and those of us who pray are praying. Someone explicitly saying that to the world tells me that thinking and praying is all they plan to do.

If I’m ever killed by a gun, know that you could’ve done nothing to prevent it. Know that the responsibility of protecting us is being shirked by those we trust and pay to represent us. Make sure they feel your sadness, your anger, your hopelessness. Make sure they feel it a thousand times greater than you do. This is their fault just as much as the person who pulled the trigger, the person who sold them the gun and the person who built that gun. Know that our country houses a system that perpetuates gun culture and gun violence.

If I’m ever killed by a gun, please don’t diagnose a person you know nothing about as “mentally ill.” Please don’t demonize mental illness by associating it with violence when most violent people are not mentally ill. The real illness is our collective denial that a machine whose sole purpose is to kill has a role in all this killing. The real illness is our fetish for the power and fear these weapons bring. The real illness is our politicians’ refusal to do even the slightest bit of work to stop their constituents from getting murdered.

If I’m ever killed by a gun, don’t say that I wasn’t killed by a gun. Don’t say it was the shooter’s mental illness, obsession with violence or lack of faith. If you’re tempted to say “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” think about how just calling someone a “shooter” intrinsically links their personhood to a gun. Regardless of who pulls the trigger, the gun does the killing. Don’t diminish my death by not attributing it to a larger problem.

If I’m ever killed by a gun, know that this is part of an ailment that plagues my generation. We’ve existed in a period when school shootings have become increasingly commonplace, but no less terrifying. We’ve grown up with active shooter drills and locked classroom doors. Because shootings happen in all types of communities and because guns exist in all types of communities, we knew there were few reasons why our schools wouldn’t be next. And then there were the movie theaters, malls, offices, churches and bars. Places where we normally felt safe now came with their own risk of death by gunshot. Why, we wondered, are our nation’s children so alone in their fear? Why is this problem so unique to us?

If I’m ever killed by a gun, please politicize my death. I don’t want to be just another victim in an endless procession of people whose lives were taken from them by bullets. I want what happened to me to influence positive change that will prevent more people from meeting the same fate. But stay committed; don’t let people forget. Politicize me because there’s not enough time to grieve before the next tragedy happens. Politicize me because people need to care before their communities are impacted. Politicize me because while no solution will fix everything, people can’t keep dying like this.

My chances — and those of everyone else in this country — of being killed by a gun increase every day that guns are purchased legally by people who should not own them, every day that a pro-gun culture our political leaders refuse to do anything about promotes gun violence in this country. Even though I’m incredibly thankful to have evaded gun violence, it’s important to acknowledge the risks each of us faces and how we can push for policies that can mitigate them. So, if I’m ever killed by a gun, now you know what to do.

Alex Schwartz is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.