Who could have imagined that the seemingly heart-warming Americana-like title of this email could, in this particular week especially, evoke such horrific imagery?
On Saturday, May 14, in a carefully planned attack, a racist-fueled killer drove 200 miles to randomly execute ten African Americans in a Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York. This was followed, ten days later by the almost inconceivable mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where, so far, nineteen children—between the ages of seven and ten—and two adults were methodically gunned down in Robb Elementary School.
These mass shootings, only days apart, differ in many respects. The killer in Buffalo planned his attack in response to the Great Replacement Theory, had written a racist manifesto on-line, included a live stream link to his actions and exposed the vast integrated network of white supremacists in this country whose tentacles run deep throughout our society and who have fostered a tolerance for racist violence. I wrote about this phenomenon in this space just one week ago. The investigation into the perpetrator in Uvalde is just beginning and, as of this writing, the shooter’s motivation is unclear. Unlike the Buffalo shooter who was not local, the killer in Uvalde was from the same community where he committed his rampage. There seems to be no immediate connection to any broader conspiracy that might have prompted such a wanton act.
These incidents are enraging—well beyond being sad. The ritual laments that occur over and over again have begun. And so has the silence on the part of those in authority who have the power and the responsibility to do something about this ongoing carnage.
Despite the differences in these incidents, there are some commonalities. First and foremost—the shooters had ready access to guns. It does little good to argue about whether the guns were legally acquired—the fact that more than 300 million guns are circulating in our society ensures that guns are available and when someone has homicidal thoughts, he (it is almost always a male) has access to firearms, including those like the AR-15 style guns that were used in these incidents, were specifically designed for the battlefield.
In many states, it is possible to purchase a gun at eighteen without any training or background checks. This is absurd. It took me longer to renew my driver’s license (after more than 50 years of driving) than it can take to buy a gun. While it may be nothing more than a meaningless ring, it still it must be said: Politicians must pass legislation that at the very least bans assault weapons and requires universal background checks. And each of us must vote for candidates who actively endorse and promise to implement sensible gun reform.
Secondly, both shooters were young—teenagers themselves. Clearly, while some young people have been (permanently?) traumatized by social media accounts of school violence or active shooter drills in the classroom, others are immune to the horrors we’ve experienced from Columbine to Parkland, from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas—which prompts us to ask: how are we failing our young people in teaching about individual respect and mutual safety? This is, to be clear, not to blame young people for these acts. Rather, it is to condemn those of us in leadership roles who have failed to adequately make the case for how deadly guns can be.
So, the seemingly endless loop has begun yet again—a mass shooting prompts hand wringing, soul searching and comments about “thoughts and prayers” and “this is not who we are,” and then—inaction. Same old, same old? Well, not quite.
The two shootings over this fortnight have one new, qualitatively more disturbing side to them. In both cases, the killers were wearing body armor. Security guards and local police who responded could not end the mayhem because they were ill-equipped to confront such militaristic tactics.* This development, with the inevitable copy-cat followers that will ensue, brings the potential for harm in mass shootings to a whole new level. It is, without exaggeration, akin to creating open warfare in our communities—yes, even in our supermarkets and our grade schools. Somehow, we must find a way out of this morass that we have created.
* [While initial media reports claimed that the shooter in Uvalde, did wear body armor, subsequent reports claimed otherwise: “The gunman in Uvalde did not have armor in his vest, but the accused Buffalo shooter did, shielding him from the bullets fired by a security guard.” I regret the error. BC]