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Friday, September 22, 2023
Sept. 22, 2023

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In Our View: Mass shootings highlight serious social disease

The Columbian

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a 21-year-old man walked into a Circle K store in Yakima and shot two customers to death. He then left the store and fatally shot a person sitting in a car. After several hours, the suspect fatally shot himself as police closed in.

The killings — which appear to be random, according to police — are shocking. And yet they barely register on a national landscape that is increasingly desensitized to America’s epidemic of gun violence.

Recent stories abound. There was a 6-year-old bringing a gun to school and wounding a teacher in Newport News, Va., classroom. There was the murder of 11 people inside a dance hall in a Los Angeles suburb. There was the killing of seven people at two plant nurseries near San Francisco. There was the killing of two people and the wounding of a third at a school for at-risk youth in Des Moines, Iowa.

The Virginia school shooting did not result in a death, but the age of the perpetrator is an eye-opening example of the United States’ problem. Amid the constant drumbeat of mass shootings, only the aberrations draw attention.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, 40 mass shootings have been recorded in the United States thus far in 2023 — more at this point than in any year on record. It is the sign of a serious social disease that has many symptoms and numerous factors, ranging from the prevalence of guns to the glorification of gun culture to poor mental health care.

Those issues have been obvious for some time, yet they typically are overshadowed by specious circular arguments that inevitably arise in the wake of a mass shooting.

Following the massacre of 19 students and two teachers last year at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Congress took action that could prove to be meaningful. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was hailed as the strongest gun-control legislation in 30 years, bolstering the mental health system, school safety programs and background checks for gun purchases.

Like any legislation, its impact will be measured over years rather than the immediate aftermath. But the spate of recent shootings demonstrates that Americans must not consider the issue to be solved.

California and Washington, for example, have some of the strongest gun-control laws in the nation, yet they are not immune from violence. Many details about the recent shootings are yet to be made public, but it is clear that gun laws in one state can be rendered ineffective by lax regulations in another; and it is clear that somebody who is deranged enough to carry out a mass shooting will not be beholden to even the strictest of laws.

At the source of all this is a nation in which there are an estimated 400 million privately owned firearms — about 120 for every 100 people. The United States is, by far, the most heavily armed nation in the world, and that comes with a steep cost.

Combating that will require vigilant efforts to address mental health care and to alter a society that fetishizes gun culture. Most of all, it will require concentrated outrage over a situation in which mass shootings are a daily occurrence.

The Onion, a satirical “news” site, frequently has cause to run what has become its most famous headline: “ ‘No way to prevent this,’ says only nation where this regularly happens.” That absurdity is demonstrated when the random shooting deaths of three people in a Washington city does not even register on the national consciousness.