We desperately wish we could call the weekend’s horrific events in Texas and Ohio surprising.
The scale of the violence – 31 dead and scores more wounded between two mass shootings – is, of course, shocking. But aside from the fact that the latest incidents occurred within just hours of one another, hardly any of what unfolded was unfamiliar to the millions of Americans following the developments.
On Saturday in El Paso, Texas, a 21-year-old man murdered 22 people and wounded roughly two-dozen others at a Walmart and shopping center before being taken into custody. On Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, a 24-year-old man murdered nine people and wounded nearly 30 in an entertainment district before being killed by police.
Authorities are treating the El Paso incident as a case of domestic terrorism, and it appears the perpetrator was motivated by racism and hatred of immigrants. The motives of the Dayton shooter – whose victims included his 22-year-old sister – remain unclear.
The latest shootings occurred less than a week after a 19-year-old gunman murdered three people and wounded more than a dozen others at a festival in California before taking his own life. According to a database compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University, 125 people have now been killed across 22 mass killings in the United States this year.
So, what now? Will the weekend’s bloodshed have more staying power in the public’s consciousness than so many prior shootings? Will our leaders form consensus around some policy approach that might slow or stop such rampages?
Those outcomes are uncertain – and, based on recent experience, probably unlikely. What is abundantly clear, though, is that the forces at play run far deeper than political debates and divisions.
Consider that at the heart of the argument over gun control, on both sides, is the idea of self-defense. Some see stricter gun laws as necessary to protect individuals and communities. Others believe ready access to firearms is vital for the same reasons.
It seems that as Americans have lost faith in institutions, we have also increasingly lost faith in one another. Incidents like the shootings in El Paso and Dayton serve to exacerbate this corrosive trend. When the prospect of being randomly shot to death while shopping at a Walmart, walking down a sidewalk or attending school becomes a real – if statistically unlikely – possibility, it makes sense that we would increasingly view others less as neighbors and more as potential threats.
None of this is to say that we are without clear courses of action.
White nationalism is a significant threat, and it should be treated like other forms of violent political extremism – as terrorism.
The president should be ashamed of, and made to answer for, his racist rhetoric and easy allusions to violence. At best, such conduct is profoundly negligent and cynical. Whatever he may claim regarding his tone and intentions, his words have diminished the office he holds and emboldened those who seek an excuse to do harm.
The manner in which guns permeate our society – far beyond their use for hunting, sport or personal protection – is a serious issue. So, too, is the widespread presence in our communities of weapons designed for the battlefield.
No other nation on Earth has anything approaching the level of gun violence seen each year in the United States. That is profoundly troubling, and together we ought to reflect on how deeply firearms are integrated into our way of life. We would do well to remember that day-to-day gun violence takes many forms – most of which do not draw nonstop, if fleeting, national media coverage.
We ought to all acknowledge, too, that merely engaging in such reflection does not represent the start of some quick slide into the full-fledged banning and confiscation of weapons.
But what ails us goes beyond political disagreements and gun control debates.
It may sound naïve, and it may be cliché, but we need to begin the work of restoring the bonds between us.
In our role as observers and documenters of local events, we are fortunate to see each day the wonderful spirit of our communities. We are able to share the stories of people from a range of backgrounds, with various viewpoints, who work to make out cities and towns better places in which to live.
Of course, we see the negative aspects of our shared local experience as well – from corruption and mismanagement to violence and exploitation.
But in our experience, for the most part, our better angels ultimately win out on the local level. Perhaps that’s because being in such close proximity makes it nearly impossible to ignore the humanity in others.
Whatever our point of view, wherever we are, let us resolve to see the humanity in one another. Any path to a better future begins there.