We know it can happen anywhere because mass shootings happen everywhere; in California, Texas, Ohio and Illinois in recent days at a festival, a Walmart, a nightlife district and a playground.
In states with lax gun laws and tough ones.
The suspected El Paso, Texas, shooter is a white nationalist. The shooter in California may have posted white supremacist sentiments on social media.
The suspected Ohio shooter is not – at this point – tied to any ideology at all. In Chicago, it was a drive-by shooting, a different strain of the cancer of gun violence in the United States.
The cumulative effect of all this mass violence playing on a recurring loop is that Americans hearts break for men, women and children cut down by bullets for no reason, but the country – permanently in shock – clearly cannot act to change anything.
A government changing very little
That the paralysis of the nation’s leaders is permanent was proven after a gunman killed 20 first-graders in Sandy Hook in 2012 and Congress did nothing. It was proven again after high schoolers were slain in Parkland, Florida. It was proven after a shooter killed country music fans in Las Vegas. It was proven after a gunman went on a rampage, killing people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.
What once caused alarm and a nationwide debate is now more terrifying because … it is normal.
President Donald Trump first offered sincere condolences for the victims before pivoting Monday morning to his usual stance of blaming the media for contributing to the country’s rage and suggesting that tougher background checks be tied to his top domestic priority, immigration control.
“We must have something good, if not GREAT, come out of these two tragic events!” Trump tweeted.
And he’ll give an address Monday at 10 a.m. ET.
Trump blamed by Democrats
Democrats lined up Sunday morning to blame Trump and his acceptance of white nationalists for creating a climate where hate thrives and is out in the open.
This is a President whose anti-immigrant rhetoric had been a rallying cry for his 2016 campaign to “Make America Great Again” by building a “beautiful wall” to keep outsiders – especially from Mexico from coming to “invade” the country. The rhetoric has caught on immensely among the Trump faithful, who chanted “send her back” last month as he denigrated a Democratic lawmaker he’d previously said should leave the US. The rally came following his racist attacks on the four minority congresswomen, known as “The Squad,” who Trump told to go back to their “crime-infested” countries. All of the four women are US citizens.
“We have a problem with white nationalist terrorism in the United States of America today,” former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an El Paso, Texas, native running in the Democratic presidential primary said Sunday, adding that “these are white men motivated by the kind of fear that this President traffics in.”
“He is responsible because he is stoking fears and hatred and bigotry,” said New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.
On ABC on Sunday morning acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney defended his boss and pointed out the era of mass shootings began before Trump took office.
“This cancer, this difficulty that we face as a nation, predates this administration by many, many years,” Mulvaney said. “What can you do? You have to try and fix the society, right? You have to figure out why people now take it upon themselves to take guns into large groups of people.”
He argued that shooters need to be the focus, not the guns, and that the country must figure out how not to give them attention.
“We’ve had guns in this country for – for hundreds of years,” Mulvaney said. “We haven’t had this until recently and we need to figure out why.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris said that as president she would give Congress 100 days to pass legislation or she’d take executive action to toughen background check rules, give new authority to the ATF to take licenses away from some gun sellers, and ban the importation of assault weapons.
Trump did something similar after the mass shooting in Las Vegas. He used administrative action to ban so-called bump stocks that were used in that particular shooting.
2nd Amendment is still a political issue
But Trump isn’t bragging about that small measure during political rallies, he’s telling crowds to be afraid of Democrats.
“They’re going to take your guns away,” he said of his political opponents at a rally in North Carolina in July.
He wants to fight the nation’s gun problem with more guns and has argued that trained teachers and others should carry guns to protect students and that laws to restrict guns would make everyone sitting ducks.
Contradicting Trump’s gun philosophy is the sad fact that police in Ohio reacted to the gunman there within one minute and he still killed nine people.
Trump defended Americans who want to have AR-15 semi-automatic assault-style weapons for entertainment during a combative series of questions about guns with Piers Morgan in England in June.
Morgan asked Trump how he would change gun culture in America and Trump questioned whether it needed to be changed.
“For some people it’s entertainment,” Trump said of AR-15s. “They go out and they shoot and they go to ranges and they have a tremendous amount of fun.”
Red flag laws pushed
Sen. Lindsey Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Saturday the possibility of more “red flag” laws that allow family and acquaintances to flag a person they are concerned should not buy a gun to authorities and slow down their ability to buy a firearm.
Texas and Ohio do not have such laws, but California does.
That the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival happened so close to the shooting in Texas shows that gun laws, of which California has some of the toughest in the country, go only so far. It is states that have taken the lead on addressing gun violence. And there is a patchwork of gun laws in the country, although all of them track back from the Supreme Court’s protection of the 2nd Amendment.
Just nine states and the District of Columbia ban large-capacity ammunition magazines. The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence – itself birthed after gun violence and later merged with another organization born after a congresswoman was shot outside a grocery store – lists California, Colorado, Connecticut, D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Vermont as places with bans that include the sale, possession, and/or manufacture of such magazines. The laws vary from state to state and define the magazines as holding either 10 or 15 rounds.
Congress has approved some small measures in recent years. In 2018, lawmakers passed a bill that incentivizes state and federal authorities to report more data to the country’s gun background check system called “Fix NICS.” In the simplest terms, the bill doesn’t strengthen background checks but instead holds federal agencies accountable if they fail to upload records to the background check system. Congress passed the measure as part of a broader appropriations package.
But lawmakers have not passed legislation limiting semiautomatic weapons since 1994, when they passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which made it unlawful in most cases to make, transfer or possess semiautomatic assault weapons. It expired in 2004. The House passed a sweeping gun control bill with bipartisan support in February, HR 8, requiring universal background checks, but the Senate has yet to consider it.
Democrats demanded Sunday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bring senators back into session during an August recess to consider gun control measures.
“The fact that he had a weapon that could have — that an assault weapon that could have shot … that could have killed so many people with enough bullets and magazines to mow down virtually anybody along that street and in those clubs and in those buildings, just tells me that Congress has just got to act and say ‘No’ to the gun lobby for the first time in Mitch McConnell’s life as the leader of the Senate,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, appearing Sunday on CNN.
McConnell’s office isn’t commenting.
It is not clear that a new system of background checks would catch all or any of the suspected shooters before they acted. But it would break the decades-long coma from which Congress has done almost nothing about guns.
Until then, and probably after, Americans will have to address the fact that mass shootings and violence will be part of life.