September 19, 2019

40 Every Day

Spectator
By Stephen Tuttle | Aug. 10, 2019

One headline said the nation was “shocked”; another, we were “stunned.” If true, why? Mass shootings have happened for so long and with such regularity we shouldn't even be mildly surprised. Another week, another massacre.  
 
It has happened at a grade school, middle school, high schools, community colleges, and universities. In churches, synagogues, and mosques. In warehouses, office buildings, and government buildings. In nightclubs, bars, and at sidewalk cafes. At malls and Walmart. At a garlic festival and a music festival. 
 
People have been killed because of their religion, their nationality, some perceived workplace grievance, the color of their skin or, mostly, for no reason at all.
 
There is no venue or location immune; mass fatality shootings have occurred in 22 states just since January 1, 2017. They've happened first thing in the morning and late at night.
 
And despite all of the above, mass killings account for only about two percent of all gun homicides. On average, nearly 40 people are shot dead in the United States every day, and it doesn't seem to much bother us. It takes a massive single incident body count to even get our attention. Our innocence, such as it is, was lost long ago. 
 
We're very good at the post-massacre rituals, less so for the daily killings. We've no real solution to either.
 
Politicians will thrust and parry, bills will be enacted by the Democratic House, only to be stopped in the Republican Senate and vice versa. Both sides will endlessly pontificate and posture while doing not much of anything. This, too, should be familiar to us. We already know it ends with nothing.
 
President Trump sees violent video games as causative, made the erroneous connection between mental illness and gun violence, touted “red flag” laws, suggested quick trials and execution for mass killers, and bemoaned the toxic environment on social media and internet chat rooms.
 
There is scant evidence violent video games, onerous as many are, lead to a game-player committing an act of real violence. Those games are also played in countries with almost no gun violence.
 
According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), people with definable mental illness commit less than three percent of gun violence against others. They are way more likely to be victims, especially of suicide. (A far better predictor of future gun violence is any incidence of reported domestic violence, prosecuted or not.)
 
Red flag laws, now in effect in 15 states and being considered in another 20, allow a judge to issue an order that temporarily removes guns from a person deemed to be an imminent danger to themselves or others by virtue of what they have said or done. 
 
Not everybody is happy with such laws — sheriffs representing more than half the counties in Colorado said flatly they wouldn't enforce them — and there are due process issues not yet fully resolved. So far, it seems the laws have mostly served to prevent some potential suicides rather than murders. 
 
We already know the death penalty deters no one, and it surely will not give the author of a massacre any pause for concern. 
 
The president does have a valid point when he references social media and online chat rooms. Some are now little more than cesspools of wild conspiracy theories and unbridled hatred. They not only give voice to the most heinous bigotry but also actively and openly encourage it. 
 
There is no easy way to stop it. Unless the hate includes specific threats against specific individuals or groups, it is likely protected speech. And it's not completely clear how we differentiate between hateful venting and a dangerous threat.
 
The public has long been in favor of some common sense solutions. Expanded background checks required for any gun purchase, a position the president has twice supported and then twice opposed, makes some sense. Outlawing high capacity magazines makes more. Outlawing so-called assault rifles is a little trickier; they would have to outlaw any semi-automatic long gun because manufacturers can make those military-style weapons look like a regular rifle. And, by far, most gun deaths are caused by handguns, not long guns.
 
We focus on the mass killings because we all feel vulnerable to the randomness and butchery of them. But the frightening reality is we are far more likely to be shot and killed by a relative or someone else known to us. And we don't much talk about that gun violence at all.
 
We fly the flags at half-mast for the latest group of mass-shooting victims, but not for the 40 individuals across the nation shot down tomorrow and the next day and the next. We don't televise those memorial services or put those victim profiles on the evening news. Perhaps we should. 

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