Mel Robbins says most Americans aren't directly touched by the impact of the horrific series of shootings and until we feel a personal stake, we won't do what it takes to stop them
She says we need to put our best minds to work to solve the problem
Editor’s Note: Mel Robbins is a CNN commentator, legal analyst, best-selling author of “The 5 Second Rule” and keynote speaker. She is also a contributing editor for Success magazine. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
In October, 2017, the worst mass shooting in US history took place at a country music concert in Las Vegas. Fifty-eight people were killed and more than 500 people injured. Bill O’Reilly boiled the massacre down to six words: “This is the price of freedom.”
I hate to say it, but he is right. Sunday, just 34 days after Vegas, 26 people were gunned down and about 20 others were wounded during a church service in Texas. And here’s what is really sick – we won’t be surprised when there’s another mass shooting next month. Maybe it’ll be your church, your mall, your concert or your movie theater. That’s the price of freedom.
In America, we are free to stockpile weapons. We are free to order ammo online. We are free to outfit our guns with bump stocks, like the Vegas shooter did. This is the price we pay for freedom, alright. The freedom to not give a damn.
Tweeting “prayers for the victims” does not equal giving a damn. Feeling bad for a day or two does not equal giving a damn. Changing your Facebook profile photo to support the victims does not equal giving a damn.
Giving a damn requires us to commit to solving the problem. And the fact is, we have a serious problem in America with gun violence.
The statistics speak for themselves. A mass shooting is defined as an event where at least four people are shot. We now have one every day in America, if you adopt the broad definition used by the Gun Violence Archive. In fact, Vegas wasn’t the only mass shooting on October 1, it was just the biggest. There was one outside the University of Kansas on the same day.
When we care, we solve problems. The military cares, that’s why the Air Force court-martialed the Texas shooter for assaulting his wife and child. But we give no damns about gun violence, which is why a “very deranged individual” as President Donald Trump put it, was able to buy an AR-556 rifle. The Texas governor said the gunman applied for a license to carry a gun but was denied by the state. Gov. Greg Abbott asks a key question: “So how was it that he was able to get a gun? By all the facts that we seem to know, he was not supposed to have access to a gun. So how did this happen?”
Congress doesn’t care either. It’s up to us to stop this public health crisis and unfortunately, we haven’t reached the tipping point like we have with cancer and opioids.
Everyone knows someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. That’s why we give a damn about solving the problem of cancer.
Virtually everyone knows someone who has died of an opioid overdose. That’s why we care enough to declare it a public health crisis.
We are dangerously close to a moment in time when every one of us will know someone who has been shot in a mass shooting. And unfortunately, based on the research, that’s what it’s going to take for us to care. It has to become personal.
Why the apathy?
Until gun violence impacts your family directly, you won’t care enough to do something about it. There’s a ton of research to explain this apathy.
After World War II, the famous Cambridge psychologist J.T. MacCurdy studied an interesting phenomenon about the bombings in London in 1940 and 1941.
He found that people affected by the bombings fell into three categories: those who died, those who were a “near miss” (who closely witnessed the horror of the bombings but lived), and those who had a “remote miss” (people who may have heard the sirens, but were removed from the direct scene of the bombing).
Here’s what’s interesting. MacCurdy found the people who witnessed a “near miss” were deeply affected by the bombing – while the “remote miss” group felt invincible and even excited.
They were far enough away from the event and had survived, leading them to feel invulnerable and no longer scared.
Until you’ve experienced a “near miss,” it’s easy for your mind to compartmentalize mass shootings that you hear about – thinking they will never affect you.
A great example of this is country musician Caleb Keeter, who performed at the concert in Las Vegas and experienced a near miss. He now cares:
“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night… We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”
For Keeter, it became directly personal. The brutal question we all face is this one – when will gun violence become personal for a majority of Americans?
Twenty children and six adults killed in Newtown wasn’t enough to make us change. They weren’t our kids or relatives.
Forty-nine young adults dancing at Pulse wasn’t enough to make us change. Those weren’t our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters.
Fifty-eight country music fans in Vegas weren’t enough to make us change either. We weren’t in the audience.
And the 26 churchgoers in Texas won’t be enough to make us change either.
Fixing the problem: Put our best minds to work
The truth is, in a few days, the news cycle will change and life will go on.
And in the meantime, with a mass shooting every day in America, the death toll will keep rising. This will keep happening until it becomes personal. Can we please not wait for that tipping point? Can’t we just commit to solving the problem instead?
We don’t have to agree on what causes a mass shooting – we just have to agree that we want to solve the problem of mass shootings. We don’t need to know how to solve the problem – we just need to put our best minds to the task of solving it.
We’ve already learned that arguing about the problem doesn’t change anything. Instead, we need a different approach – looking toward a solution.
This is a moon shot approach, and it’s worked for us before. In 1962, when JFK spoke at Rice University, he announced his goal of landing an astronaut on the moon and his confidence in doing so.
Kennedy didn’t have his full plan yet. He didn’t know exactly how a man would land on the moon. But he did know what he wanted to outcome to look like. He didn’t ask Congress to solve it; he challenged our nation to do it.
Using Kennedy’s problem-solving approach, let’s look at mass shootings in the USA from the same “moon shot” approach.
Imagine if we said that by 2025 we wanted to be nation that led the world in having the least number of mass shootings.
Based on how divided we are and how many tragic shootings happen in this country, this vision may seem as difficult as landing a man on the moon.
Creating this vision is a start because then, we can work backwards and make it happen.
And we must start. We must admit that we have a problem that we want to solve. Because if we don’t start now, we’ll all be waiting like sitting ducks for the next psycho with too many guns, accessories and ammo to pick off our friends, family and children one by one. You’ll face a direct hit. Then you’ll care.
There is an answer to this problem. How about we take a moon shot right now and commit to solving it?
And, just imagine. It’s 2030, and on the news a headline flashes onto the screen: “USA has been free of mass shootings for years. Here’s a look back at how it happened.”