Picture where you were when you first heard the news about the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Or, if you’re old enough, where you were when Kennedy was assassinated that fateful day in October in 1963. Did you watch it all unfold on television? Bring back those visuals. You weren’t at all prepared for your world to fall down around you.
Now picture where you were when you first heard the news about Columbine. Where were you when you heard the news of the first U.S. school shooting? What were you doing? Do you remember? Sure, Columbine, Colorado, is more isolated than New York City or Dallas, but do you remember how you felt for those students? Did the shock value have any impact on you?
One of the reasons, if not the reason, why events like the JFK assassination and 9/11 were so earth-shattering were because their rhetoric appealed to all American people. Do you remember the sense of community you felt, though odd, when you realized you were all in this together? That rhetoric is the difference between the assassination and 9/11, and school shootings. While the latter is unfortunate and tragic, it is not a relatable rhetoric for everyone in the country like the former.
Of course, people will be sympathetic to the situation and send out “thoughts and prayers,” but the pathos of those instances do not relate to deeply-rooted nationalism like symbolic tragedies, such as killing our nation’s leader and destroying buildings with hundreds of thousands of Americans still inside, do.
Nationalism – I am referring to the kind masked as “pride for your country” – is instilled in all of us from the first time you do the pledge of allegiance in grade school. Such is the difference between just another school shooting, where Columbine clearly just wasn’t enough of a sickening bloodbath, and someone to, hypothetically, take down Lady Liberty.
I know I would feel deep sorrow for the children cruelly murdered, but I also know I would actually weep and fall to my knees if the Statue of Liberty were to ever be destroyed in the name of “I hate America and everything it stands for.”
Yes, it is very disgusting to think that I would feel more grief for a damn statue than I would for innocent American lives, but it’s the symbolism and what the Statue of Liberty (again, hypothetical) stands for that distinguishes those two acts.
But then, since we find that more devastating than kids being shot, why can’t we find more rhetorical appeal in it? Why am I not relating emotionally to innocent American children being gunned down just for the hell of it than I am to a symbol of America or its leader being destroyed?
Pathos just isn’t appealed to when children die in school shootings because they don’t stand for America, they stand as examples of gun violence and countless school shootings, which do not rhetorically appeal to everyone in America unless you are affected directly by the traumatic incident, or are in grade school. Children dying from a school shooting definitely doesn’t appeal to your sympathy if you own numerous guns and are proud of it.
When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Secret Service knew they were going to have to make changes to their security for future presidents, and so it was done. When 9/11 happened, the federal government and the Transportation Security Administration knew they were going to have to make changes to their security for future air travelers and pilots, and so it was done. So why didn’t the United States government try to come together to make changes to their gun control laws after Columbine happened? Why did Columbine come and go, then the Virginia Tech shooting, then the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and then the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting?
How many more children must die at the hands of ruthless murderers before Americans find the pathos they harbor for a 9/11 or a Kennedy assassination and use it to make a change?
Unfortunately, for all that I’ve just explained, America may never find equal pain they have for school shootings like they do for national travesties. It shouldn’t take a national travesty to get us all to really deeply feel for school shootings and gun violence. When will we start actually feeling grief and choose to make a change?