You couldn’t call it exactly fitting that the latest mass shooting in America happened in a quiet Chicago suburb during the annual Fourth of July Parade.
There can be nothing fitting about a 21-year-old, apparently obsessed with gun violence and armed with a “high-powered rifle” — generally assumed to be an AR-15-style assault weapon — positioning himself atop a Highland Park building overlooking the parade route and killing at least seven people and wounding dozens more.
According to various witnesses, not always entirely reliable in such a chaotic moment, the gunman fired as many as 60 rounds, in mere seconds, before fleeing when the cops arrived.
OK, but if it’s not exactly fitting — people dying, families destroyed, a community left in shock, just as in so many different settings over the decades since Columbine — the juxtaposition is still jarring.
As the Highland Park community celebrated the best of America, nearly 250 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence — although while likely leaving out or, at minimum, glossing over some of the nasty bits like slavery and genocide — we know from our reading or if we’ve seen the play Hamilton, that the Founders were often at each other’s throats. They required vast compromises to get anything done, but did somehow put forth a radical concept of self-government that has worked more often than not in the years since, but which now seems to be in some jeopardy.
It’s safe to say that when the Founders were writing the confusingly-worded Second Amendment, no one envisioned the gun-violence crisis we’re experiencing today or the fact of a weapon that could fire 60 rounds in less than a minute, using bullets meant to tear a body apart, and how the Founders’ work — after some tortured interpretation by the Supreme Court — would eventually contribute to the spread of our deadly shooting contagion.
Someone asked me Monday how the recent mass shooting in Norway — which saw two killed and 19 wounded at a gay bar in Oslo — fit into my thesis.
It’s easy enough. In a typical year — with some terrible exceptions — there are no mass shootings in Norway. In America, Highland Park was the 309th mass shooting (and still counting) this year — defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot, although not necessarily fatally. And it was the 15th mass murder this year.
There were three mass shootings in Chicago alone over the weekend. Nine died and 57 were injured in shootings other than the Highland Park shooting. Chicago, as we know, has some of the toughest gun laws in America, but the guns come in anyway from neighboring states where laws can be pretty lax. And how long before the Supreme Court knocks down Chicago laws, as it did with a 108-year New York law that closely regulated licenses for people who applied to carry guns in public?
Across the country, as people went to watch fireworks, there was often confusion about whether the sound came from fireworks or bullets being shot. As Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker put it, “It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague. While we celebrate the Fourth of July just once a year, mass shootings have become our weekly — yes, weekly — American tradition.”
It’s actually worse than that. One-hundred-and-ten people die every day from gunshots, whether it’s a suicide or a homicide or just one more accident where a child gets hold of a gun, often not properly stored by a parent, and shoots a sibling or a friend. Or the 2-year-old who shoots and kills the father, after which the mother is charged with manslaughter for not storing the gun properly.
And we’re all aware by now, I hope, of the shocking statistic that guns have passed auto accidents as the No. 1 cause of death among children up to 19 years old.
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It’s notable that this is the first headline-making mass killing since Congress passed its surprising, bipartisan law in response to the killing of all those children in Uvalde.
I wouldn’t say that the new law is toothless — there are some good things in there, including expanded waiting periods for young buyers and adding a “boyfriend” clause to laws restricting guns in cases of domestic violence, further incentivizing red flag laws — but it’s still a small bite out of the huge problem. The bipartisan committee working on the bill couldn’t agree to a ban on assault weapons, couldn’t get the age for those eligible to buy an assault weapon from 18 to 21, couldn’t get limits on the size of magazines, couldn’t get to universal background checks, and on and on.
The suspected shooter, we’re told, was able to buy his gun legally. He’s 21. An adult. As if being an adult is a guarantee of maturity. He was a rap singer who used violent images and voice-overs in the videos he made. There were the usual red flags everywhere, none of which stopped him from being able to get his “high powered rifle.”
As Francisco Canto, a former U.S. Border Guard, writes in a stirring New York Times op-ed, we have been too long held hostage by our gun mythology, of the lone man with a gun conquering the frontier, of a good guy with a gun protecting us from the bad guys, even as the many armed cops at the Highland Park parade could not.
As we heard from the survivors in Highland Park, an upper-middle-class suburb, many said that things like this don’t happen in places like Highland Park. But, sadly, they do. And if Congress has finally passed a bill addressing gun violence, we all know — or should know — that can only be a beginning. For Congress, for those legislators who enable the gun industry, for those of us who keep electing the enablers. We are hooked on a myth.
The question remains: Can we ever let that myth go?
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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