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Littwin: The Denver-Lakewood shooting spree is the 687th mass shooting in America this year

According to the Gun Violence Archive, it’s the 13th mass shooting in Colorado in 2021. With the year nearly over, it could be the last — until next year.

The more that becomes known about the mass shooting in Denver and Lakewood on Monday evening, the stranger the tragic story becomes.

But in the most important way, it is like virtually every other mass shooting. 

A troubled man — it’s almost always a male — has a gun or two guns or more and, for one twisted reason or another, sets off to shoot and kill people. There are usually signs of trouble. There are usually red flags that should have made it clear to a thinking society that the shooter should never have had access to guns.

The police have identified the shooter, suspected in all five killings, as Lyndon James Mcleod, who was 47. After killing five and wounding two, he died in a shootout with a Lakewood police officer, who was seriously wounded. The shooting spree lasted for more than a hour, but it wasn’t so much a spree, in fact, as it was a series of apparently targeted killings.

Mike Littwin

Police have said most or all of the victims were known to the shooter. And, yes, Mcleod was well known to law enforcement. He had been investigated by police earlier this year and also last year, but had not been charged. 

In a news conference Tuesday, Denver police Chief Paul Pazen said the shooter was on their “radar,” but that it would “not be responsible” to discuss the nature of the earlier investigations, which, he said, were likely connected to the Denver-Lakewood gun violence. 

What we do know is that four of the five people killed either worked at or were near tattoo parlors when they were shot. What we do know is that Mcleod owned a now-delinquent business called Flat Black Ink at 246 W. Sixth Avenue, a site where a tattoo parlor now sits and where Mcleod had fired at two people he was chasing Monday.

We know that the shootings began at Sol Tribe Tattoo, owned by Alicia Cardenas, the first victim. She was 44, the mother of a 12-year-old, a self-described “indigenous artist” and muralist, who had worked at the site for years. 

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And according to a tweet by Kyle Clark of 9News, “The shooting spree suspect’s business published a three-book series of what could be described as alpha male sci fi, published from 2018-2020, celebrating brutal violence against the characters’ perceived enemies and graphic sexual assaults.” The shooter in the books was named Lyndon.

So, yes, red flags. So, yes, he was known to law enforcement. And, yes, we see the same old story, even if differently told. It can be a school. It could be a drive-by. It can be a movie theater. It can be a grocery story. A birthday party. A man who set out to kill cops, who was killed by a good guy with a gun, who was then mistakenly killed by police arriving at the scene. We’ve seen it all.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, which keeps track of these things because someone has to, the gun violence in Denver and Lakewood represented the 687th mass shooting in America this year — a mass shooting being defined as one in which at least four people are injured. 

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It was also, according to the archive, the 13th such shooting, including the King Soopers massacre, this year in Colorado. 

As everyone knows — because we’re constantly reminded — this is a peculiarly American epidemic. It’s not, like COVID, a pandemic because you don’t see this problem spreading worldwide, with the exception of those countries where the government has basically failed as an institution. 

Most developed countries have tougher gun-restriction laws in place. According to Giffords, the gun-control group founded by Gabby Giffords, you are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun in America than in those peer countries, which is a function, we’re told, of the hundreds of millions of guns in America.

Three of the people killed in the spree were identified on Tuesday. In addition to Cardenas, Danny Scofield, 38, was killed at the Lucky 13 Tattoo in Lakewood and Sarah Steck, 28, a clerk at the Hyatt House, was killed at the hotel in the Belmar Shopping Center.

The first mass shooting in Colorado this year apparently came on Feb. 3 in Oak Creek. Two died, including the shooter, and two others were injured. It is to Colorado’s credit that it has passed gun-safety laws after the most notorious of our shootings. Columbine. Aurora theater. King Soopers. Three laws inspired by the King Soopers shooting will go into effect on Jan. 1, at the end of this week.

One new law allows local governments to pass more restrictive gun policies than those set by state law. One closes a background check loophole and prohibits people convicted of certain misdemeanors from buying guns. One sets up an Office of Gun Violence and Prevention, which, sadly, will have a very recent case to work with. There were three more gun laws passed earlier this year in Colorado, which, given that we’re a western state, is pretty remarkable.

But the sad truth is that unless Congress passes more — any? — national legislation covering these issues, the effect will be minimal. In fact, over the past two years, we have seen a tremendous growth in gun deaths, including homicides and suicides, in Colorado and all across America. Some say the increase has to do with COVID or maybe with the high-profile police killings. No one really knows.

As I write this, I understand the futility, but also the necessity, of doing so. When we do nothing to confront these gun deaths, we must be reminded that we are doing nothing. When we do too little, we must be reminded how little we do. And even as we do too little,  we can actually credit the discredited NRA with getting one thing almost right — it’s not exactly guns that kill people. It’s gun violence that kills people. You’d think everyone would be opposed to gun violence. And yet.

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And please don’t say it’s too soon to politicize the Denver-Lakewood spree. George Brauchler, the Republican former DA who ran for a couple of statewide offices in the last election and will be running again for others soon, tweeted this Monday night: “Colorado’s crime tsunami leaves 5 more bodies in its path. Any answers or leadership here @GovofCO @COAttnyGeneral #coleg ???”

State Republicans plan to make crime a major issue in the 2022 elections. They do not plan — just guessing here — to say that the proliferation of guns contributes to violent crime.

According to the latest Pew Research poll, barely more than half of Americans think we need stricter gun laws. Only 49% say that making it harder to buy a gun would lead to fewer mass shootings, 42% say it wouldn’t make any difference and 9% say there would, in fact, be more mass shootings. 

Mass shootings make up only a small percentage of the gun violence in America. But they are the ones that grab the headlines. And now, sadly, tragically, we have had to add one more. 


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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