There is a bridge. I remember fondly visiting Cornell in 2009 and strolling across it, pausing to take in one of those moments where life becomes a movie; the epic expanse of dramatic cliffs with a peaceful river far below was truly inspiring. “Simply bucolic” describes 2011 graduate John S.
In that moment of vast appreciation I could have never guessed the bridge’s gruesome reputation.
Tucked into the gorges of Ithaca, New York, Cornell University garnered national attention in 2010 after three students took fatal leaps off the campus’s many bridges within the span of a month.
Desperate to shake off the nickname “suicide school” the University took swift action to prevent future jumpers, erecting a series of chain-linked barbed wire fences on seven bridges in the area.
A visage once majestic was instantly suffocated. Crossing the bridges now felt like walking from one prison ward to another. Student outrage soon followed. Not only did the fences ruin the view, but as John S. noted, “it makes people who don’t think about suicide think about it everyday.” A constant physical reminder of the darker side of the college experience, dividing students from the beauty that once epitomized their campus. Really it’s just depressing.
Rather than address the underlying cause of suicide, the university wanted a solution that was quick and easy and above all one that everyone could see. They spent millions of dollars de-beautifying their campus that could have gone toward further expansion of mental health services. The fences might deter impulse jumpers, but won’t solve the problem at the heart of this issue.
It’s complicated and we don’t like to think about it too deeply. Similarly, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, people were desperate for something to be done and in record time President Obama threw together a bill. A reasonable bill, I would say, a bill that should have been pushed through long ago, but wasn’t.
It’s pathetic that 20 first graders had to die for this country to start taking gun control seriously.
I’m not insinuating that reforming the way we distribute weaponry in this country is out of line. I’m saying that knee-jerk reactions like Cornell’s hideous fences only address one small part of the problem and don’t combat the underlying causes, which are complicated, big and scary so of course we want to avoid thinking about them.
We don’t want to think about how disturbed young white males are essentially invisible in the system. No matter how many warning signs James Holmes and Adam Lanza exhibited, they remained under the radar, while presumably if they were black this would not have been the case.
We don’t want to think about how mental health services are only available to those who can afford it, and how the prison system has taken the place of asylums.
And we really don’t want to think about how there are already 9 guns for every 10 people in this country, so any measures we take that may slightly inhibit purchases of assault weapons will realistically fail to prevent future tragedies. And of course, when any resource becomes less available there is always a black market waiting to pick up the slack.
While Obama’s bill may be a nice gesture, it’s too little to late. This isn’t a problem that will be instantly negated by legislature alone. We’ve heard it a million times before: Gun’s don’t kill people, people do. And people don’t just go on shooting sprees for no reason.
We can’t pin-point the source of why this keeps happening but gun availability is only one contributing factor. Let’s also not forget Lanza tried and failed to purchase additional weapons. Funny, how something that didn’t directly contribute to this crime becomes the cure. Even from day one people haven’t stopped talking about gun control.
Boiling it down to cause-and-effect simplifies something that is cultural, psychological, and deeply complicated, and doesn’t work toward solving the problem.
We have become all too accustomed to the ritualized exercises in mass hysteria that follow these unfathomable tragedies. For days after the tragedy the nation was plastered to media outlets, eager to gain any shred of explanation or relief. In the age of instant gratification, we want answers and solutions, and we want them as quickly as possible. But we also must accept that easy answers, while they might temporarily satiate the public’s need for retribution, will have little long-term impact.
Fences won’t stop anyone who wants to end their lives from doing so.
Gun control alone won’t end the frightening trend of senseless slaughter now hitting far too close to home.