We’ve already forgotten about it.
On Oct. 1, people enjoying an outdoor concert in Las Vegas were picked off like fish in a barrel by a gunman shooting from the 32nd story of a hotel. He owned 47 guns, 12 of them semiautomatics fitted with legal “bump stock” devices that turned them into illegal automatic assault weapons.
Fifty-eight of the 300 shooting victims died. This tally doesn’t include those who sustained non-gunshot injuries while fleeing, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA).
This was the biggest mass shooting in American history. Surely this would be the atrocity that finally triggers weapon reforms? Right?
By mid-October, the story had all but disappeared from view. And public consciousness.
Admittedly, it’s hard to keep track. The day of the Las Vegas bloodbath, we’d already had 273 mass shootings in 2017. (Four dead or injured, excluding the shooter, qualifies as a mass shooting.) We average roughly one mass shooting per day. As I’m writing this, three mass shootings were recorded by GVA before 3 p.m.
In the week that ended with Bloody Sunday in Las Vegas, 10 mass shootings occurred, one in Lawrence, Kansas, also on Oct. 1. You probably didn’t hear about that one. Not much to it, really. Just three dead and two injured. We’re blind to such small potatoes.
Mass shootings have become normalized in our country. It’s just how we Americans choose to live. And die. We’ve accepted the fiction that “freedom” means freedom to die violently at the hands of our fellow Americans when we least expect it. It’s part of our vaunted American “exceptionalism.”
And we are exceptional. We really like to kill one another. Our gun homicide rate was 29.7 deaths per one million persons in 2012, according to United Nations data, way more than any other “civilized” nation. The next highest was Switzerland with 7.7 gun homicides per one million.
Excluding suicides, more than 12,300 Americans have died from gunshots in 2017, according to GVA. More than 25,000 have been injured. Between 2006 to 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 971,000 Americans died from all types of gun violence, including accidents and suicide.
This kind of “freedom” is not free: It cost us $25 billion in hospital emergency and inpatient care, says the CDC, which — Hello? — now is forbidden by Congress from collecting gun death data.
Given our tolerance for gun violence, it’s safe to say we deeply cherish our freedom to be shot down inside our churches, as were six worshippers who died in Wisconsin in 2012 and nine who died in South Carolina in 2015. Or to have our children killed in high school cafeterias such as the one in Marysville, Washington, where four students and the shooter died in 2014. We are perfectly free to be murdered while at the movies, as were 12 Colorado film fans in 2012, or while having a drink in a bar in Orlando, where 49 were executed in 2016. We can die safe in the knowledge that our “freedom” is intact while being mowed down on the way to class at an Oregon college campus, as were nine people in 2015. And we’re free to be killed meeting with our Congressional representatives, as were six souls in Tucson in 2011.
After 26 people — 20 of them children — were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, some foolishly imagined reasonable people surely would agree that Congress must strike a more rational balance between the inherently awkward demands of public safety and unfettered freedom.
Rational? That would not be us. That would be Canada, Britain or Australia. After they had mass shootings, these countries took firm steps to guard public safety — the paramount duty of governments. Australia, a nation whose frontier DNA is perhaps most akin to our own, had 13 mass shootings between 1979 and 1996. Australia then banned the sale of semiautomatic weapons and funded a buyback program to retire existing ones. Since 1996, Australia has not had one mass shooting.
The gun homicide rate in Australia is 1.4 deaths per million; Canada’s is 5.1. If you’ve visited these countries, you may have noticed something odd: their citizens live lives as free from tyranny as our own — and freer from gun crimes. This does not square with our national narrative about the necessity of weaponizing our society.
So we must ask ourselves: what the hell is going on here?
Responsible gun ownership always will have a legitimate place in American society. But don’t mistake the grotesque gun anarchy we’ve created for that.
“You can’t regulate evil,” Republican Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky was quick to assert after the Las Vegas massacre. Right. But you can regulate weapons. When Connecticut tightened gun laws, homicides fell by 40 percent. When Missourians relaxed theirs, the murder rate rose 25 percent.
The uptick in American gun violence parallels the National Rifle Association’s conversion from gun safety advocate to weapon manufacturers’ shill. It’s as if the American Lung Association morphed into sales reps, lobbyists and political enforcers for the tobacco industry.
Our socially destabilizing gun violence pathology is fed by more than an irresponsible gun lobby and greed. It’s fueled by our fear of one another. This gun violence pathology will either turn our nation into a failed, ungovernable state — or drive us to demand reforms.
So. Are we there yet?
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.