There is something severely wrong – sick, actually – with a culture where mass shootings are so frequent that they only earn a critical mass of attention when there’s a high number of victims or an unusual shooter. Say, a six-year-old firing at his grade-one teacher point-blank during class, which happened earlier this month in Virginia.
This weekend, there were four mass shootings in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive. In three of them, no one died; those cases did not top the headlines. But at least 11 people were killed in the Asian enclave of Monterey Park, Calif., on Saturday. It was the deadliest mass shooting since 19 children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Tex., last year. It is an absolute tragedy. It is also tragic that we didn’t hear much about the 12 people injured in a targeted shooting at a bar in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the four people hurt in a drive-by shooting outside a casino in Tunica, Mississippi, or the eight people wounded – including two three-year-olds and a five-year-old – when shots were fired into a home in Shreveport, Louisiana. That one, too, was a targeted shooting, in case that detail provides any comfort.
Just another weekend in America. And on Monday, two more mass shootings made headlines. At least two students were killed at a youth non-profit in Des Moines, Iowa. And a few hours later, there was another mass shooting in California that killed at least seven people in Half Moon Bay.
Americans deserve to be able to go dancing to celebrate Lunar New Year, attend an Independence Day parade, shop for groceries, sleep in their beds, and go to school without fear of being gunned down. Yet swaths of Americans are clinging to a constitutional amendment written long before semi-automatic weapons existed. This unwise and reckless ideology has allowed an atmosphere of terror to disguise itself as freedom.
And the effects ripple; the fear migrates. Early Sunday, there was concern that Saturday night’s shooting in Monterey Park was a hate crime, as Asian people and communities have been brutally targeted, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Vancouver, some people became wary about Sunday’s Chinatown Spring Festival Parade – the first since the pandemic began – to mark the year of the Rabbit.
When there is a mass shooting, the speculation immediately turns to motive. Was it a hate crime? Did the gunman hate Asians? Black people? Jews? Gay men? Drag performers? Schoolchildren?
Did the person have a mental illness? Had he – it is almost always a he – been exposed to violent video games? Had the Internet’s algorithms served him white-supremacy propaganda? Did he have a troubled childhood? Was there domestic violence in the home? Was he teased at school?
Considering the so-called “reasons” for these actions is important. But there needs to be more focus on the opportunity these killers are afforded by the ubiquity of guns in the U.S. Most firearms used in mass shootings there are legally purchased, according to the Violence Project. About a quarter are obtained less than a month before the shooting.
Firearms can be bought at sporting goods stores, at chains such as Walmart, and at gun shows – billed as family-friendly events where “patriots” can grab a bite and pick up toys and souvenirs. They are also conveniently available for purchase online “anytime,” as one gun store website I found promises – along with free shipping. Another U.S. website is running a contest where you can win a Glock 47: “New year, new gun – check out our deals!”
Across the country, there are guns sitting on vehicle front seats next to their freedom-loving drivers, guns sitting menacingly in holsters while their owners pick up their morning coffee and muffin, guns stored – sometimes insecurely – in suburban family rooms and basements.
There are little kids being taught how to shoot by dads so proud that they make TikTok videos about it.
And there is a powerful gun lobby that has somehow managed to keep its blood-drenched narrative going strong – even after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Uvalde. Even after 60 people were killed and more than 800 injured after a shooting at an outdoor Las Vegas concert in 2017.
On Sunday, as families who should have been celebrating the Lunar New Year were in total shock and grief, the National Rifle Association tweeted about U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris: “They hate the NRA because we will never stop fighting for our Second Amendment and self-defence rights.”
No. The NRA is hated because it is fighting for protections that get thousands of people killed every year.
It is easy to hate the NRA – a well-connected lobby group with strong ties to too many politicians that often posts messages like this while families grieve over the latest senseless gun deaths.
One can only hope that the NRA’s consistent refusal to read the room exposes its malevolence to the rest of the country.
The Globe and Mail, January 23, 2023