Now is the Time to End America's Culture of Violence

July 27, 2012

Last week’s horrific shooting spree in Aurora, CO, sent shockwaves and sorrow throughout our nation. A Friday night premiere of one of the summer’s most anticipated films quickly turned into a nightmare for innocent moviegoers. When suspected shooter James Holmes, a 24 year-old graduate student majoring in neuroscience, decided to shoot up a local movie theater that killed at least 12 people and wounded 58 others. He devastated our sense of safety. Why did it take a vicious act of violence for our nation to start talking about issues that may lead to such unfathomable acts?

In the past week, debates have taken place around gun control laws, mental health issues and the media’s biased portrayal of those who commit terror-inspired acts. The sad reality is that there is a segment of society who deems it inappropriate to have these discussions while mourning the loss of our fellow citizens. The truth is: The complexities of human emotions allow us to feel sorrow while dealing with reality.

Every so often, we witness a tragic incident such as the Aurora shooting, the supermarket murders in Tucson, AZ, and the Virginia Tech massacre. When these events occur, we are shocked then, debate the identity of the aggressor and quickly return back to life as normal. We do not discuss the underlying issue of the problem: the culture of violence in America.

It seems after every tragic incident, politicians renew the debate on gun control and violence. This situation is no different, with politicians coming out stronger in support for stricter gun control reforms and others saying it’s too soon to be discussing anything when we should be grieving. As a society, we have become desensitized to the ongoing occurrence of violence. We need to hold our politicians accountable for maintaining the relevance of having these debates and not shying away from grieving and dealing with reality.

While Holmes should be labeled, without a doubt, as a murderer, we should be smart enough to realize that he is a terrorist. His premeditated actions that night showed his intent was to instill terror and fear into the audience to make a statement. After last week, American Muslims began to wonder why the media did not label Holmes as such. This horrific incident should allow us to reflect on mass violence as a whole. For us to keep the citizens of our nation safe we must ensure that all threats, no matter where they emanate, are assessed in a similar manner and that we do not focus our attention soley on one specific group of our citizens. Again, the complexity of human emotions allows for people to analyze the overall situation while simultaneously mourning loss of life. The inconsistency of labels has muddled the debate on those prone to act violently.

Without using the incident in Aurora as a political pawn to move legislation, we must continue these debates in a respectful manner while being cognizant of the hurt Aurora citizens are going through. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the greatest nonviolent leaders of our nation, once said America is “the greatest purveyor of violence” -- it is time for serious introspection to determine the root causes of the violent culture in our society today.

[Contact: Hoda Elshishtawy, Legislative and Policy Analyst, (202) 547-7701,

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