The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
Academia is often accused of being out of touch with the rest of the world. I might agree, sometimes, but since gun violence often takes place on college and university campuses, including the University of Arizona where I am pursuing a Ph.D., academia is not studiously aloof to this societal illness.
The accounts of gun violence are never ending these days. They’re becoming so common that many foreign-born people (I’m married to one of them) think this is just what life in the United States looks like. Isn’t that horrific? So I did some research to see if academia had something to offer and discovered actor-network-theory (ANT).
ANT is a theory being applied to a number of disciplines in higher ed. One of its main proponents, Bruno Latour, defined it as an anti-methodology, something that tells us how not to study things.
ANT emphasizes the relatedness between living and nonliving things, considering how each action triggers another action in an expanding network of players. Everything’s connected. I can’t drink my coffee without my cup and I can’t hold it comfortably without the handle.
Let’s examine what happens when a fatal shooting occurs: Is it the gun that kills people, as gun control advocates insist? Or is it the person holding the gun, as gun rights advocates insist?
ANT would say the answer lies in a different question, highlighting the matrix that enables the action: the pull of the trigger, the explosion of gunpowder, even the humidity of the air that the bullet travels through to reach its target.
In a mass shooting, guns will kill some and not others in part due to this complex interplay of agents.
Considering ANT, one begins to see that the current gun debate fuels a false dichotomy. To prevent shooting deaths, we need to change the matrix: we need a multi-pronged approach to prevent more people from dying due to gun violence. That means better education. That means improved mental health services. That means more reliable tools for families to flag distressed relatives. That also means more gun control legislation to make guns harder to get.
Just hear me out: I’m not saying that we need to make guns impossible to get. Maybe it means that someone who wants a gun may have to work a little harder, but we all know that we put effort into something that’s really important to us.
Trust me: I’ve been married for 15 years to an Egyptian. It took effort to secure him a fiancé visa, and it takes effort to maintain a cross-cultural relationship — and considerable effort to accept the fact that, eight years ago, he purchased a firearm, which is always kept in a safe with a combination and a key lock.
Now that you’ve met him, let me tell you more about my husband. His favorite movie is “Tombstone,” and in particular, the scene in which Virgil Earp, after hanging up a citywide ordinance that bans guns within its jurisdiction, announces to the restless crowd: “Calm down and listen to me. Nobody’s saying you can’t own a gun. Nobody’s even saying you can’t carry a gun. All’s we’re saying is you can’t carry a gun in town.”
In other words, we need better boundaries to delineate a less violent future. I’m sick of the dying. I’m sick of waking up to learn how easy it was for a gunman to take eight, five, eight beautiful souls from this Earth, knocking over precious life like bowling pins.
We already have the resources we need to reduce gun deaths. We need to treat gun violence like what it is: a pandemic as serious as COVID-19.
Kristen Hoggatt-Abade is a senior lecturer in the writing program and a second-year Ph.D candidate in rhetoric and composition at the University of Arizona. She holds an MFA from Emerson College and is the former “Ask a Poet” advice columnist. Her creative work has been widely published.