In recent months the debate surrounding gun control has exited the public arena, eclipsed by a host of new issues; coronavirus and the growing BLM movement have monopolized our attention, and with good reason. Eager to establish protocols and regulations to mitigate the public health nightmare of the COVID-19 pandemic, medical officials presented the world with an effective method of “flattening the curve”: wearing a mask in public. Simple and elegant, this easy task seemed to be the perfect means of containing coronavirus while still retaining some degree of societal normalcy.
But then, something crazy happened. Something so absurd, so unexpected and preposterous it boggles the mind: the COVID-19 pandemic became politicized. The issue of masks, once a no-brainer public health measure, has now risen to the forefront of American political debate, with its supporters and detractors split heavily along party lines. Studies have shown that while 61% of Democrats reportedly always wear masks in public, only 24% of Republicans follow their lead (Gallup).
As I reflect upon the incomprehensible reluctance of so many Americans to don a mask in public, I find my mind drifting unfailingly to the gun epidemic which plagues this nation--the issue of masks and guns are paralleled, intrinsically linked by similar motivations. Many people in our country believe that their right to bear arms or to not wear masks supersedes the common good, an entitlement which can only be described as egregious. In both instances, the same tired explanation is given to justify selfish actions: all American citizens are endowed with inalienable rights irrevocably given by God and the constitution. Yet, what are these holy rights? Freedom of speech, press, and religion? The right to assembly and representation? No, these individuals refer to a different set of sacrosanct liberties: the right to wield a weapon, unencumbered by any regulation or common-sense policy, and the inviolate right to not cover your mouth or nose during the most severe pandemic the world has seen in decades. While doggedly defended as “American freedoms”, no matter what you decide to call them, the end result is the same: a trail of death, caused by rampant disease and unabated shootings.
Is this the American way?; to doggedly defend the vague concept of inscrutable rights, even when these so called “rights” threaten to topple our democracy and kill hundreds of thousands? If so, then our governmental system, once a beacon of liberty in a world dominated by tyranny, has fallen out of balance. Our system is supposed to function as a result of checks and balances that assure individual rights are not erased in favor of the majority, but also that privileges for the few are not prioritized over the well-being of the many. This year, while no students will fill the halls of schools, a cruel few will still attempt to hurt us; not with semi-automatic rifles or pistols, but with uncovered faces and callous indifference.