Views expressed in this blog are mine alone and are not intended to represent Williamson County policy nor intended as legal advice.
Chippewa Falls, WI
58 dead. 115 injured. In one week.
Likely you don’t recognize some of these mass shootings. Not all of them made national news. Some people would claim that some of them don’t count as mass shootings. They argue definitions and semantics.
The Gun Violence Archive, for example, counts mass shootings as incidents in which four or more people were shot or killed, and by this criterion, Dayton is the 251st mass shooting this year. By the FBI’s definition, that number is only 17. The FBI doesn’t include incidents where there are no fatalities and requires 4 or more deaths, excluding the shooter. By that definition, the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival doesn’t make the cut since the shooter is included in the total. That’s no comfort to the families of 6-year-old Stephen Romero, 13-year-old Keyla Salazar or 25-year-old Trevor Irby; the three young people killed.
We can’t agree on how to define the term mass shooting. Does more than one person have to die? Does someone have to die at all? Must it be in a public place? Do we include gang or drug-related shootings? How about police shootings? The fact that gun violence is so common in our country that we can’t even agree on when it reaches the level of “mass” is a terrible thing.
Add to that the ease of access to guns, in particular, assault weapons, and we have a recipe for death and mayhem. We are particularly incensed when the scene is somewhere public and seemingly random - churches, schools, shopping centers, nightclubs, theaters. These crimes make national news. They bring out the pundits arguing for better mental health care. Politicians parade in front of the cameras and take to social media to offer their thoughts and prayers to those impacted. We get lazy thinkers claiming violent video games or films are the culprits. They ignore completely the issue of gun control, domestic terrorism or white supremacy. Moreover, the hundreds of other gun violence events in our country that don’t involve an assault weapon or a high body count are completely invisible.
We really have three types of events here. One is the lone gunman intent on taking down as many people as possible before surrendering or going out in a blaze of glory. The other is the family violence where partners and spouses kill their exes/current paramour, and other family members (often children and in-laws) before killing themselves. The last are crime-related - fueled by drugs or alcohol or those done with a profit-motive.
El Paso, Dayton, Southaven, Chippewa Falls, and Gilroy are the first. Pomfret, Suffolk, Elkhart, and Rosenberg were the second. Chicago, Haskell, Columbus, Uniontown, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia are the last. When you look at the numbers associated with the attention-grabbing headliners of El Paso and its ilk and the family violence incidents, as opposed to the crime-related shootings, I’m struck by one thing - the first two have a much higher fatality count.
El Paso is being investigated as domestic terrorism. In this case, we have a well-documented case of a young, white male who had been radicalized by white supremacist groups. The three mass shootings that have the highest body count this week - El Paso, Dayton, and Gilroy - all used an assault-type rifle. What drove the Dayton and Gilroy shooters to their crimes are unclear so far, but all three purchased their weapons legally. All three shooters were white, young and male.
Once we get beyond these events, the waters get much muddier. Shooters are a variety of ages and races, though generally male. Weapons of choice are generally handguns. In these incidences, talking about mental health makes sense. Anger management, toxic masculinity, domestic violence; these all play a part. Yet it is easy access to a gun that makes them deadly.
Those instances where domestic violence plays a part almost always lead to a death count when a gun is involved. Anyone with a history of family violence should not be able to purchase a handgun or continue to own one. This is one instance where I believe taking a gun away from someone is the right thing to do.
The crime-related gun violence incidences, even those that seem random, could all be curbed with better background checks and waiting periods. Yes, the person really intent on perpetuating a crime will find a way, legal or not. That doesn’t mean we have to make it easy for them.
How many deaths will it take?
How many lives ended or permanently changed before we act?
Mother Jones, the Union activist, is quoted as saying, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living”. We must take the time to mourn our dead. But we honor their deaths by fighting for the living. We demand stricter gun control laws. If our current crop of leaders won’t act, we elect ones who will. We work to increase mental health access across the board so no one believes the only way to solve their problems is with a gun. We fight for better laws concerning domestic violence. We counter white supremacism and racism whenever and wherever we find it.
We must not give in to despair and anger. We must resist the rising tide of hate and more importantly, the ongoing miasma of disinterest.
Speak out. Act up. Fight. The life you save may be your own.