Point Austin: Another Night of Blood
One more episode in the culture of the gun
On Sunday afternoon, in the midst of other work, I posted to Twitter and Facebook the latest summary statistics from the Gun Violence Archive (www.gunviolencearchive.org), the nonprofit effort to collect nationwide, "near-real time" data on gun violence. As of Oct. 1, summarizing the first nine months of 2017, the GVA listed 11,572 U.S. gun deaths; 23,365 gun injuries, 271 mass shootings, 1,508 unintentional shootings, and 2,971 kids/teens shot.
Needless to say, those summary statistics were immediately out of date. The next morning I woke to learn of the Las Vegas massacre, for which the growing numbers continue to be added to the GVA's database. As of Wednesday morning, Oct. 4, the new numbers read: 11,718 deaths, 23,767 injuries, 273 mass shootings (four or more people killed or injured), 1,518 unintentional shootings, 2,991 kids/teens shot. If you dig a little further ("last 72 hours") into the accumulating statistics, you'll find the still incomplete Las Vegas casualties: 59 dead, 241 confirmed injured. You'll also find more than 200 additional shooting incidents, all in the previous 72 hours. I only counted a couple (one in Kansas, another in Florida) that qualify as "mass shootings," but it's frankly difficult to keep track.
I certainly can't claim any prescience in happening to post those numbers a few hours in advance of what is now commonly described as "the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history." (For reasons you can surmise, we don't count the 1968 My Lai massacre, where more than 500 unarmed Vietnamese were slaughtered by U.S. armed forces, and we've also erased the genocide against countless Native Americans as no longer "modern.") In this space, I've returned to the Archive periodically to provide a more precise sense of the scale and range of U.S. gun violence, and I didn't anticipate writing another column about it, just now. Then I woke up Monday morning and turned on the news.
The Truth of the Matter
In the last few days, there have been reams of commentary on the subject, with everybody chiming in on all sides. I can't pretend to add much that is new to the endless, fruitless discussion. Here's a couple of useful nuggets that I've gathered on the way: "We need to decide, once and for all, that the Second Amendment matters but it does not mean that ordinary people should potentially have access to automatic weapons or devices that allow semiautomatic weapons to fire more rapidly. We need to take the stand that the police and the military are the only people who need that kind of firepower" (Roxane Gay, The New York Times).
"But we know this particular hope means little, that action to prevent gun violence is far from forthcoming. If it didn't happen after Sandy Hook – where a gunman killed 20 children – or the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando – where 49 victims lost their lives – then it isn't happening after Las Vegas. Which gets to the truth of the matter.
"As long as the Republican Party is fully committed to its vision of an armed society – a ruling party gripped by the power of the gun lobby and unmoved by the routine massacres that mark American life – there are few options in the realm of legislation" (Jamelle Bouie, Slate).
I can't add much to those two observations, except that the answer to the ongoing epidemic can't be "nothing." As Gay writes, there are things that could be done to lessen the likelihood of similar massacres, as well as to address the daily, ongoing drip, drip, drip of gun homicides. But as Bouie argues, that doesn't mean that, under our current political circumstances, any of those things will be done.
A Long Road
It's not yet clear what might have motivated this latest murderer, although it's unlikely to be complicated. A man angry at the world for some real or imaginary disappointments – things common to all of us – but with plenty of money and ready access to multiple military-style weapons, decides to end it all in a blaze of carnage, attacking a large crowd from above precisely because they provide helpless targets. The scale is large – but it's nothing we haven't seen before, from slaughtered families to partygoers to schoolchildren.
As I've written previously, with more guns than people in the U.S., and a common, popular culture reflexively committed and accustomed to violence as inevitable, it will certainly take more than a few years and new laws to stem the bloody tide. Commonsense laws such as universal background checks, to restrict weapons of war and the accumulation of civilian arsenals, efforts to prevent criminals or the mentally ill from acquiring guns – all of these things are necessary, and the struggle to achieve them must continue.
Just as necessary – foundational – would be a cultural sea-change in our common attitudes toward violence, retribution, war, and peace. In the shadow of this latest American outrage, I have no idea if any of that is even possible.