For the second time in less than a week a man with a gun engaged in a mass shooting. Flags lowered in memory of eight victims in Atlanta had not yet been raised when news broke of the newest outrage, 10 dead in Colorado. Tragedies like this have become so frequent that they cause scarcely a pause as America goes about its day. “Did you hear there was another shooting?” someone asks. Think about that for a moment: another shooting.
As a country, we are so numb that we shrug off the toll this takes on the friends, relations, children left behind. We shake our heads and get on with things. But what if we did not? What if each time there was a shooting, we put aside whatever we were doing, work, school, socializing — just stopped? Stopped our cars, stopped our sermons, stopped our meals, stopped simply not paying attention to the epidemic of gun violence. Routine stops for the survivors and those who knew the victims, and routine should stop for a country that tolerates relentless killing and seems no longer to care.
Lone gunmen with semiautomatic rifles are only a part of the horror’s total. Gun homicides soared to nearly 20,000 last year, breaking records, and an additional 24,000 Americans took their own lives with a firearm. In the nation’s largest cities, there was a 30-percent increase in gun violence deaths from 2019 to 2020. When the number of murders and accidental shootings are combined, more than 100 people each day in the U.S. die from gun violence. The increases have been attributed in part to the effects of the pandemic in blocking intervention and anti-crime programs and limiting police, who might otherwise have headed off conflicts before they became fatal. A surge in gun and ammunition sales sparked by Covid-19 escalated after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, setting off international protests. Like the virus itself, gun violence in 2020 was unevenly spread, with the majority of the dead and injured in Black and other communities of color.
The killing must stop. Perhaps the only way to get elected officials and corporations to finally act is if we together stop treating the toll as normal. Flags flying at half-staff will not stop the plague of deaths. We alone can do that.
A note: The National Suicide Prevention hotline 800-273-8255 is always available for people having thoughts of suicide. An online chat is available as well. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 800-799-7233.