Atlanta, Boulder, Indianapolis.
Massage parlors, a grocery story, a FedEx warehouse.
If these groupings had anything in common, other than being the sites of mass shootings and mass death, it might be easier to deal with them. If there were some commonality, other than the guns and the grief and the tears and the anger and the helplessness and the political cowardice, there might be steps that more people would be willing to take.
We know that America has many more guns than any other country and that restricting, for example, assault rifles and/or offering buyback programs — like the successful one in Australia — is unlikely to happen here.
If there were a spate of, say, grocery store shootings, we could take the school-shootings approach and apply it to grocery stores or we could take the TSA approach and apply it to grocery stores or we could figure out something specific to grocery stores that would discourage shooters.
But it’s not about grocery stores, and it’s not about FedEx warehouses, and it’s not about massage parlors and it’s not about Atlanta and it’s not about Boulder and it’s not about Indianapolis, although there have been three mass shootings in that city this year. The first two in Indianapolis were domestic-related shootings. As I write this, we don’t know the possible motive of the FedEx shooter.
The only common factor here is guns. And the fact that many of the people who do violence with guns have such easy access to them. And what we do know is that police knew about the shooter, that his mother had previously reported to the police that her 19-year-old son might attempt what is called suicide by cop and that the cops had actually taken a shotgun away from him last year.
What we don’t know is how he got hold of the gun he used at the FedEx warehouse. We don’t know why four members of the Sikh community were among the murdered. But in any case, it’s another call for action on gun violence. It’s another call that, if history is a guide, won’t be answered. But this time the pressure on the president, who has repeatedly called for action on gun violence, will only grow.
And the longer we do so little about guns — and in the case of Congress, virtually nothing — the more we become used to the idea that nothing in the way of prevention will come of mass shootings. In most cases, the shootings command national headlines for a few days and then disappear from view except in those communities directly affected. We know too well in Colorado what it means to be directly affected.
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When we have a number of mass killings in a short time, there are at least two possible reactions.
One is to try to do something about gun violence.
The other is to offer thoughts and prayers and do nothing. Sadly, doing nothing, at least in Congress where it could most matter, is the runaway winner here.
And that is despite the fact, according to any number of polls, Americans overwhelmingly support measures like banning assault rifles, universal background checks and federal databases of gun purchases. You name it. And yet even with the National Rifle Association at its weakest point in decades, doing nothing remains Congress’ default position. And that’s despite the fact that Joe Biden actually wants to do something about gun violence.
On Friday, Biden spoke the obvious: “Gun violence is an epidemic in America. But we should not accept it. We must act. … Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”
Yes, it stains our character. Yes, it pierces our souls. And yet, already this year, there have been 247 mass shootings — meaning four or more injured or killed — and 11 mass murders, which are defined as shootings with four or more killed. The numbers game, which is not really a game at all, of course, varies. But the one clear fact is that the numbers are staggering. According to data compiled for a Vox report, there have been 2,654 mass shootings since Sandy Hook.
On occasion, when we do find a specific cause for violence— as in the police violence against Black people, with George Floyd’s death sparking mass protests — some states, including Colorado, have passed legislation. Biden has urged Congress to act on police reform. Many in Congress agree they should address police reform.
But that doesn’t mean they will get police reform out of Congress. And whatever happens in Congress, it won’t, of course, get at gun violence.
There was a very interesting story in The Denver Post the other day about the relative rarity of mass shootings — even in a state with a tragic legacy like Colorado — in comparison to shooting deaths caused by suicide or so-called community violence. Colorado has passed gun laws, usually in response to a mass shooting. There are a few heading through the legislature this year. But homicides are up, in Colorado and across much of the country after years of decline. No one is sure why. There has been an average of one shooting a day in Colorado resulting in injury or death.
And then there’s this: There has been a surge in gun purchases, and everyone knows why. We have a Democratic president who has issued a few executive orders on guns and vows to offer up critical legislation, although it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how any of it could get passed. And yet, there were 42,997 gupurchased in Colorado in February, which is a 17% increase from the same month in 2019.
There was also a comprehensive look in The Colorado Sun about how and where the guns used in Colorado’s too-long list of high-profile shootings were obtained. According to the article, two themes emerged — that guns were purchased legally for that specific shooting and that guns were stolen for use in the specific shooting.
According to national statistics from the FBI cited in the article, in 40% of active-shooter incidents, the gun was purchased legally to use in the attack, in 35% the shooter already had the gun and in 17%, the guns were borrowed or stolen.
You’d think this would be an interesting place of study. If we know where guns used in these crimes are purchased and what kinds of guns are purchased and we have a profile of those who purchased them, there may be laws — much like the red flag laws — that could effectively address gun violence.
But I worry about a different response. What we’re seeing across the country, including in Colorado, is a pull back on COVID-19 restrictions as COVID fatigue has set in. Some writers have taken to comparing it to senioritis. In the case of mass shootings and of gun violence in general, there are similarities. But I don’t think fatigue is the concern as much as it is despair.
As of today, we have two conflicting truths that beg for resolution: Something must be done in Congress about gun violence; nothing is being done in Congress about gun violence. Until, or unless, we can resolve at least that much, we’re just waiting for the next massacre.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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