One thing links all mass shooters

  • Indescribable grief: three Walmart workers, Melisa Gonzalez, Jesus Romero and Raven Ramos, who helped people to escape during the mass shooting on Saturday get emotional during a vigil on Sunday at Ponder Park in honour of the victims in El Paso, Texas (Photograph by Lola Gomez/Austin American-Statesman/AP)

    Indescribable grief: three Walmart workers, Melisa Gonzalez, Jesus Romero and Raven Ramos, who helped people to escape during the mass shooting on Saturday get emotional during a vigil on Sunday at Ponder Park in honour of the victims in El Paso, Texas (Photograph by Lola Gomez/Austin American-Statesman/AP)

  • Charles Lane

    Charles Lane


Another day in America, another flurry of bullets, another massacre.

Sometimes, the gunman opens fire at Walmart, apparently because he believes America is being invaded by Mexicans, who must therefore die, as in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday — 22 dead; more than two dozen injured.

Occasionally, he shoots up a former workplace after resigning for murky “personal reasons”, as in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on May 31 — 12 dead; four injured.

At other times, as in Pittsburgh on October 27, 2018, according to police, the killer takes aim at Jews, whom he hates for allegedly plotting to resettle the US with refugees — 11 dead; six injured.

Or a shooter will barge into the offices of a newspaper against which he has a grievance, and start mowing people down, as occurred at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, on June 28, 2018 — five killed; two injured.

It is not unheard of for someone angry over a domestic quarrel to invade a church and begin shooting indiscriminately, as on November 5, 2017, at Sutherland Springs, Texas — 26 dead; 20 injured.

Once in a while, someone will point a weapon out of an upper-floor hotel window and, for no particular reason at all, rain 1,100 rounds on people attending a country-music concert, which is what happened in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017 — 58 dead; 851 injured.

Then there’s the shooter, “fuelled by rage against Republican legislators” in the words of a subsequent report by the local prosecutor, who attacked GOP congressmen as they practised for a charity baseball game, on June 14, 2017, in Alexandria, Virginia — six injured; thanks to the intervention of a Capitol Police security detail, the suspect was killed before he could complete what would otherwise have been a mass political assassination.

Another time, on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Florida, a perpetrator entered a nightclub frequented by gay Latino men and began shooting, pausing to call 911 and tell the police that he was a follower of the Islamic State terror group exacting revenge for US airstrikes in Iraq and Syria — 49 dead; 53 injured.

On the afternoon of July 7, 2016, in downtown Dallas, a shooter targeted police officers in apparent retaliation for the deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement — five dead; nine injured.

It has also happened, in San Bernardino, California, on December 2, 2015, that a married couple, inspired by Islamist terrorist groups abroad, planned and carried out an attack on an office Christmas party — 14 people killed; 22 injured.

That was just a few months after June 17, 2015, when a white 18-year-old male, obsessed with the idea that “blacks were taking over the world”, according to police, entered an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina, and began firing at people as they prayed — nine killed.

And going back a bit farther, to December 14, 2012, there was the time when a 20-year-old in the grip of “severe and deteriorating internalised mental health problems ... combined with an atypical preoccupation with violence”, as an official investigation concluded, brought a semiautomatic rifle and huge quantities of ammunition to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — 27 dead; two injured.

Every time, the story is a bit different. The shooters are white (El Paso, Pittsburgh), black (Virginia Beach, Dallas), young (Charleston), middle-aged (Las Vegas), Muslim (Orlando, San Bernardino) or Christian (Sutherland Springs).

What all the cases on this very limited partial list of American carnage have in common is that, each time, someone bent on mass murder found it possible — easy, really — to get the weaponry with which to carry out those intentions.

Sometimes, as in Sutherland Springs, they did so despite laws, which were not properly enforced. For the most part, though, they got their guns legally; the killer in Las Vegas had no fewer than 24 firearms in his hotel room, of which 22 were assault-style rifles, many with 100-round magazines and “bump stocks” for rapid firing.

Max Weber, the German sociologist, provided the classic definition of the state as “a human community that [successfully] claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force” and “is considered the sole source of the ‘right’ to use violence”.

By that definition, the United States is not a state; there is a constitution that distributes the right to use armed force among the federal government, state and local governments and, via the Second Amendment, individuals.

And we have a special interest lobby, with near-total control over the Republican Party, which exploits and distorts the nation’s founding document to block reasonable firearm regulations that would be consistent with individual freedom but protective of modern society.

No doubt there are benefits to this situation such as hunting and self-defence in remote areas. What is now more apparent than ever, however, is the cost — the traumatic, bloody, unbearable cost.

Charles Lane is a Washington Post editorial writer specialising in economic and fiscal policy, and a weekly columnist

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Published Aug 6, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Aug 6, 2019 at 8:02 am)

One thing links all mass shooters

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