By Illaria Dana, Education Major
On Tuesday, November 24, The Beacon and CeSIL, the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, hosted a vigil on the patio behind the Oceanview Dining Hall. The vigil was intended to, “honor the victims in Paris and those who are murdered everyday by the hands of ISIS, the hands of tyrants, the hands of barbarians, and to honor the victims who get little press because they reside in areas consumed by violence and war and who have no say and no easy escape” and was intended as an exercise of empathy for SMCC community members. People arrived at the patio at six, lit candles, and the vigil commenced with words from the SMCC President, Ronald Cantor.
President Cantor reminded attendees about the privilege of living in Southern Maine, in a place that is safe, and of the opportunities at the college for students to work on themselves as individuals, as members of a team, and to work towards their future professional and personal goals. We experience here an opportunity to grow that is unhindered by the war and terrorism that affects so many people’s daily lives.
Many students are refugees, who have gained permanent residency, and asylum seekers, who are in the process of applying for permanent residency. Students who are asylum seekers cannot apply for financial aid, and many scholarships ask whether applicants are permanent residents of the U.S. For these students, the beginning of each semester involves a frantic search for funding. These students have been displaced from their countries due to violence, conflict, or natural disaster. Without advocates in the SMCC community, and legal services such as ILAP, the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Program, they would be denied the access to learning that we, as citizens, often take for granted.
Hugues Ingabire, a student at SMCC and an asylum, offered his opinion on the future of SMCC, “I am from Burundi, and I am an asylum seeker. To me education is a tool for reaching whatever goals people might have in their lives. Much more important is peace, because it allows me to do the work I have to do, whether I am in class or at work, efficiently. By the way, I am so thankful to be in a place where I know that I am safe and secure; a place where I am not threatened. With the help of several individuals I have struggled my way to SMCC which, to me, is a launching pad. Although I undergo financials struggles trying to find ways to pay for my school expenses, I often encounter helpful organizations willing to contribute to my education. I am looking forward to transfer to a four year degree College. I would love to see a scholarship being created for student who are asylum seekers like me.”
The United States is a haven for those seeking peaceful lives and betterment through education. However, we have a rising incidence of gun violence. There have been 351 mass shootings this year. A mass shooting is defined as when four or more people are murdered by gun violence. Our political representatives seem to accept this as a part of life, when, in fact, it is a result of poor gun policy. The day after the San Bernardino shooting, in which 14 people were murdered, the Senate rejected a bill that would prohibit suspected terrorists from purchasing guns. The majority of votes against the bill were cast by Republicans who claim to want safety for the people. They have led the War on Terror. Yet, due to their actions, the people we will not allow on a plane for fear of threat to public safety are allowed to purchase guns.
The New York Times ran an article called “How They Got Their Guns”, which showed how perpetrators of mass shootings got their weapons. They stated, “The guns used in 15 recent mass shootings, including the attack in San Bernardino, were bought legally. At least eight gunmen had criminal histories or documented mental health problems that did not prevent them from obtaining their weapons.”
Since suspected terrorism, documented mental health issues, and criminality do not prevent one from buying guns, what does? Why are our politicians reluctant to pass legislation that would protect people from senseless murder? Why are those who purport a hatred of terrorism reluctant to restructure the U.S. into a place that is safe for all?
The answer may not be simple, but certain reasons for this reluctance to govern are clear. The journalist Igor Volsky recently released a list of politicians who tweeted their sympathies and prayers for victims of the San Bernardino shooting and who had received money from the NRA. For example, Senator Mitch McConnell from Kentucky received $2500 from the NRA in 2014 and tweeted, “My thoughts and prayers are with those impacted by the senseless shooting today in #SanBernardino.” Volsky reported that the, “NRA spent $30,650,008 in independent expenditures during the 2014 election cycle.”
The Federal Election Commission defines independent expenditures as, “expenditures for communications ‘expressly advocating the election or defeat of a clearly identified candidate that are not made in cooperation, consultation, or concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate, a candidate’s authorized committee, or their agents, or a political party or its agents.’” This means that the NRA spent over $30 billion to ensure that politicians voted in conjunction with the NRA’s objective, “protecting the right to keep and bear arms.”
As an institution that protects the right to higher education, safety, and a careful examination of the facts, it is against our interests to allow gun ownership to remain unregulated. The Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon showed that community college campuses are not invulnerable. Rather than living in fear, there are direct actions we can take to protect ourselves and advocate for those around us who are trying to live peaceful lives. We can send letters to our senators expressing our indignation that the NRA is controlling the policies that would protect us. We can advocate for our peers who have fled from violence to receive financial existence. We can exercise our empathy for the people locally, nationally, and internationally who have lost their lives due to violence. And we can refuse to allow money and propaganda to influence our core beliefs. Gun violence threatens our ability to learn in safety and build a strong community of learners.
Student Senate President, and the President of Phi Theta Kappa, Erik Squire said he would, “like for students to feel a sense of community as SMCC. I want students to not only get involved for their own sake but for the sake of others. I want for our community on campus to care about the success of others and to strive to make a climate the is conducive to collaboration, opportunity, and achievement. I think this is accomplished by using critical thinking skills to pursue truth, coupled with a strong sense of compassion.” We must use our critical thinking skills and sense of compassion to examine the gun laws as they apply in the United States, for our school does not exist in a vacuum, but rather, exists in the context of the larger community.