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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

The Grand Experiment Has Not Failed. We Have.

By Phil Plait

Today is truly a horrible day, so terrible itâs difficult to process. As my heart sits in my chest, crushed, I think about the parents, the other children, everyone touched by what happened. I want to know why this happened, how it could happen.

Online and in the media I see a similar urge with those talking about this. And itâs a natural reaction to try to assign blame, saying itâs the fault of the NRA, or politicians, or a failed health care system.

None of that is true. Iâll tell you whoâs to blame. You are. I am. Everyone is.

America has been called the Great Experiment, and itâs really true. When this country was founded it was a chance to start again, to try to learn from past mistakes, take what was good from learned experience, and apply all that to create a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

And since then, weâve experimented. Weâthe American peopleâexpanded voting rights to women, to blacks, to everyone over the age of 18. That experiment worked. We experimented with banning alcohol. That experiment did not work. Weâve experimented with a national road system, a space program, deregulating the airline industry, and more. Some things have worked, and some havenât.

The purpose of an experiment is to learn. And one of the many purposes of learning is to act on what weâve learned.

Politicians are the front line of this action. They make the laws. So in events like todayâs we look to the politicians and try to lay blame. Thatâs natural, and not unwarranted. We also look to their influencers, like lobbyists. Thatâs also natural, and also not unwarranted.

But who are the ultimate influencers of politicians and the laws they makeâor donât make?

You are. I am. Everyone is.

Todayâs awful news is not the first time we have seen mass killings, mass shootings. Aurora. Tucson. Columbine. The list is appalling, and sadly far too long.

But what have we done about it? What has changed, what new experiment was attempted to change this situation? The Brady Bill made it slightly more difficult to buy guns, but whether you are for gun control or set firmly against it, it should be clear to you that the Bill did not do enough to prevent them from getting in the wrong hands.

Of course this situation is complicated, and of course there is no one solution. We cannot take action just to take action, and convince ourselves we're doing something, no matter what it is. But all we have learned from doing nothing is that nothing has been done. Discussing this, just talking about it realistically, is the first necessary step.

But after all these recent shootings, there has been no discussion in Congress about it. Certainly we should be revisiting our gun laws, our mental health care, our school system, to see if there are any ways of improving them and either preventing something like this from happening again or minimizing its chances. We need to be looking to other countries, to past mistakes, past successes, and applying that knowledge to our situation now.

But this topic is actively avoided, as if so soon after such an event is not the right time to discuss this. But itâs precisely the right time to discuss this. If not now, when? In the coming days, as the immediacy of today fades a bit, this will still not be discussed by politicians. Now, is the right time, now, when this is on everyoneâs minds. It is out of respect for the victims that we must discuss this, not keep silent.

Because we are the ones who are the caretakers of this experiment. And weâre abrogating our responsibility. We are watching the same events unfold over and again, and weâre not doing anything to change the conditions. That is not an experiment. That is irresponsibility, plain and simple. And the responsibility is yours. Itâs mine. Itâs everybodyâs.

And we must ask ourselves: What have we learned today? And what are we, the people in charge, going to do about it?

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