Every year, the United States is on pace to set a new record for mass shootings. This year is no exception.
There is no singular definition of what constitutes a mass shooting, but the Gun Violence Archive is often widely cited; it defines a mass shooting as one in which at least four people were killed or injured. So far this year, it has counted over 200 in the U.S.
Last year, America had 646 of them, 36 of which involved four or more fatalities.
Mass shootings have now become so common that someone like me, who regularly visits the U.S., begins to think: how safe is it there? I realize it is a country of 330 million and the number of people killed by some person toting an assault weapon is minuscule in the grand scheme of things, but you still can’t help thinking there’s a chance you could walk out of a Walgreens one day and be met by flying bullets.
And there is no will, political or otherwise, to do anything about it.
That is the thing that is truly demoralizing. Guns are so entrenched in American culture that there is no turning back. Some states like California have adopted tougher gun laws, but it hasn’t stopped mass shootings. It still remains too easy to get your hands on a powerful semi-automatic weapon there.
A strange thread in all of this is the propensity of politicians to characterize mass shootings as “mental health” incidents. But as David Axelrod, former adviser to Barack Obama, pointed out: The “U.S. doesn’t suffer from a higher incidence of mental illness … What we do have is nearly half of the privately-owned guns in the world, despite having just four per cent of the world’s population.”
A story out of Austin last week showed a shift in the wall of opposition to gun control measures after of a rash of shootings in the state. A bipartisan committee of the state legislature voted to advance a bill raising the minimum age to purchase AR-15-style rifles to 21 from 18. The same story, however, said the bill had virtually zero chance of passing in the state senate.
This, in a state where 19 children were murdered in a mass shooting last year in Uvalde. A week ago, near Dallas, a 33-year-old man armed with a rapid-fire rifle killed eight people and wounded 10 others in seconds, before being shot and killed himself. There have been more than a dozen killings of four or more people in Texas in the last two years. What has the state done in response? Loosened firearms laws, doing away with its permit requirements to carry handguns.
Republican politicians revel in gun culture, with some sending out Christmas cards with pictures of their family all holding guns, including little children. It’s completely sick.
Meantime, church leaders throughout America talk about the sanctity of life when it comes to abortion. But they generally keep their mouth shut when it comes to children being murdered by some aggrieved person who purchased a semi-automatic rifle at their local Cabela’s as easily as ordering a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. Americans have become experts at offering “thoughts and prayers” and laying little teddy bears at a memorial site where children were shot dead.
Just don’t try and take their guns away.
The U.S. Supreme Court last year struck down a New York law that had been in place since 1913 that restricted those who could carry a concealed weapon. Writing for the majority, Clarence Thomas said the Second Amendment created a broad right to carry a firearm in public for self-defence.
Case closed. Insanity.
There are lots of theories about why gun control is so controversial in the U.S. A provocative piece in Salon last year suggested it was mostly white Americans who refused to give up their weapons because it was those weapons that enforced white supremacy. Guns are the instruments, author Chris Hedges argued, that prevent whites from being dethroned.
“America’s gun fetish and culture of vigilante violence makes the U.S. very different from other industrialized nations,” Mr. Hedges wrote. “This is the reason there will never be serious gun control. It does not matter how many mass shootings take place, how many children are butchered in their classrooms or how high the homicide rate climbs.”
Here in Canada, we stumble along with our gun laws. But we are reminded every week why restricting access to guns of any sort (except for hunting) is the absolutely sensible thing to do. A majority of us demand it.
What we don’t ever want is the kind of senseless carnage we see south of the border. It is frankly terrifying to witness. And even more terrifying to think of where it might ultimately lead.