El Paso, Dayton, and the American Mass Shooting Epidemic: A Statement
This weekend was a horrific one here in the United States. In El Paso, Texas, white supremacy reared its ugly head and brought a hate-filled mass murder to innocent shoppers in a crowded store. In Dayton, Ohio, an obviously anger-filled man erupted in the most horrible way possible by premeditatedly shooting people enjoying a Saturday night at a local nightclub. In all, 31 people were murdered between the two incidents, with dozens more injured. For all involved, even as an uninjured bystander, life has forever changed.
This capped off a seven-day period of violence that swept the nation. Here’s a look at just a few incidents:
On Saturday,July 27th an off-duty police officer was shot and killed after approaching graffiti taggers and trying to stop them. The officer and his friends then left the scene but were shot as they walked to their car. The officer was killed, and one other was wounded.
That same night, one person was killed, and eleven others injured when gunfire erupted in Brooklyn at an annual community festival known as the “Old Timers Event.
In Chicago over that weekend, nine people were killed and another 39 wounded in various violent assaults. This weekend saw another seven killed and 53 injured in shootings. It was so bad that emergency rooms had to close for a period of time.
On Sunday evening July 28th, in the greater Miami area, an Orthodox Jewish man was shot outside his synagogue while awaiting an evening prayer service.
Also that night, one man was killed and another five wounded in a shooting during a rap video production in Philadelphia.
Then, in Gilroy, California, at the annual Garlic Festival, a gunman opened fire and killed three – including two children – and wounded another 15 before being taken down by law enforcement.
What can be done to stop the violent carnage occurring far too regularly in this country?
Thoughts and prayers are good, but, as pointed out, the first part of that equation often is missing in our attempts to solve this problem.
The United States Constitution’s 2nd Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. Any policies enacted to address this violent epidemic needs to occur within that legal framework. If guns are constitutionally allowed to be owned, what – if any – controls can be put on their ownership? I have a few ideas that I’d like to propose.
Jilian Peterson and James Demsley, who run The Violence Project (a nonpartisan think tank in St. Paul Minnesota) wrote a compelling op-ed in the Los Angeles Times addressing their multi-prong recommendations to help prevent future horrific incidents. Others have given their ideas.
Many ideas for reform are common sensical and oft-rehearsed and they don’t include banning any weapons or confiscating legally owned firearms. These include calls for universal background checks, permit to purchase licensing for gun buyers, safe storage laws, and red flag laws. These should be easy bipartisan solutions. And while these safeguards wouldn’t have prevented all of the violence in the past week, they could have helped prevent some of the violence. And prevention to any degree is worth it. There are already laws for a couple of these propositions before Congress and they need to act.
Another issue that needs to be addressed by more than tweets and news commentary is how anger and hate is perpetuated in this country. The heated rhetoric that has increased in recent years gives a seeming excuse to unstable individuals to act in unspeakable ways. White supremacy needs to be rooted out. Hatred for any minority or marginalized group needs to be addressed head-on. Monitoring hate-filled sites on the internet that breed hatred and violence is a must. We need to shame those who perpetuate hate-filled rhetoric. We need to preach love and tolerance in our churches and teach equality in our schools. We need to do all we can to publicly and privately eschew and stop the angry tribalism that has swept over our country. Our elected officials need to be held to a higher standard than they currently are and we should not elect those whose language incites and divides rather than unites.
Those who have friends, family, or associates who are exhibiting dangerous signs of potential violence need to have a place where they know they can report their concerns. This can’t be done in a police state manner. Instead there needs to be a combination of law enforcement and mental health professionals able to assist when a concern is raised.
Mental health care needs to be more easily accessible to all and it needs to be ongoing and comprehensive. The vast majority of mental health issues do not cause a person to act violently. However, many drugs meant to treat mental illness, and that are helpful for the majority, can have side effects that lead to violent behavior. If a person is administered a mental health medication, then there needs to be mandated follow-up to monitor the patient’s reaction to the drug.
And finally, we need to, as a nation, become more aware of the people around us. We shouldn’t fear them, but we should be aware of them as individuals, so that we can provide the support needed before a violent act occurs. We tend to be isolated, caught up in our own personal lives to the exclusion of watching out for and reaching out to those around us – be they neighbors or the strangers in our midst. We need to be more watchful and understand that all within this country are our family, our neighbors. We need to recognize that we do all belong to that wonderful Brotherhood of Man that has a stewardship to care for one and all. Indeed, there is “a noble tie that binds all human hearts and minds.”
I call on all leaders and individuals in this nation to respond to this crisis with a willingness to do what is truly needed to prevent more senseless violence. Legislation, education, and caring for all are essential if we are to “bind up [this] nation’s wounds” and build “a more perfect union.”