Public officials faced numerous questions last week in the immediate aftermath of the horrific mass shooting in Raleigh: Who was the perpetrator? Why did he do it? Exactly where and when did the killings take place?
As we learned soon thereafter, police quickly pieced together the answers to some of those questions. They now believe that a “camo”-clad 15-year-old high school sophomore allegedly killed his 16-year-old brother and murdered four other people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in and around the suburban Hedingham neighborhood. The shootings appear to have commenced at around 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon and the suspect was “contained” three hours later.
We’re still waiting for an explanation of motive – though it’s hard to fathom that some sort of profound mental delusion or disturbance wasn’t a major contributor.
One question that seemed not worth bothering to ask, however, was this: How did it happen?
Tragically and infuriatingly, we all already know the answer to that. In modern America, mass killing machines of the kind used in this instance – the shooter used some kind of long gun – are so incredibly abundant and easy to obtain that just about anyone and with a mind to get one and big enough to lift it can become a mass murderer with minimal effort.
As the BBC reported last week, no other nation comes close to the U.S. in civilian gun ownership. Current estimates place the number of firearms in our country at 360 million, or 120.5 per 100 residents – nearly two-and-a-half times the rate of the runner-up country on the list, Yemen. The U.S. figure has grown by roughly 50% in just the last decade.
And it appears the U.S. is home to more civilian-owned AR-15-style assault weapons (more than 20 million) than any other country has civilian-owned guns of any kind.
While it’s at least conceivable that such a mountainous arsenal might be somewhat safely maintained through the enforcement of rigorous gun safety and education rules – particularly with respect to children and adults who demonstrate a propensity for violence – this is, of course, not how we roll.
And as the Washington Post reminded its readers, North Carolina has no minimum age for possessing rifles or shotguns.
Meanwhile, other research confirms that hundreds of thousands of mostly minimally trained North Carolina adults obtain and keep loaded, unlocked firearms in their homes, where children can access them.
Like wannabe characters in the violent video games on which so many of them were reared, these confused and fearful people cling to the almost invariably absurd notion – a fantasy concocted and marketed by the merchants of death in the gun industry – that they will somehow be able to protect themselves and their families, or even “take out” a mass shooter like the disturbed kid in Raleigh.
Not surprisingly, more children are now killed by guns in North Carolina than motor vehicle accidents. Suicides are a frightening contributor to these numbers.
Meanwhile, elected leaders in perpetual political debt to the gun lobby assure that even the most modest proposals in the North Carolina General Assembly go nowhere.
Repeated proposals by State Rep. Marcia Morey – a former chief district court judge – to enact a North Carolina “red flag law” that would allow judges to issues “extreme risk protection orders” to remove guns from individuals upon a family member’s showing that they pose a serious risk to themselves or others have never even received a hearing in the GOP-controlled state House. A new federal law to help underwrite any costs of such a program has been ignored.
The House did approve a bipartisan proposal in 2021 to fund a statewide education campaign to promote safe gun storage and distribute free gun locks. But despite the proposal’s broad bipartisan support, the state Senate, which never does anything to cross the gun lobby, refused to consider it – thereby, in effect, sentencing more North Carolinians to an early death.
Meanwhile, the claim advanced by legislative apologists for gun safety inaction that mental illness, rather than easy access, is to blame for our society’s soaring gun death toll, would be easier to take seriously if those same legislators actually funded something close to the number of school counselors, nurses and psychologists needed to help serve our anxiety-ridden and violence-inundated children, rather than squirreling away billions of surplus dollars in unproductive savings accounts.
Similarly, promises by prosecutors to “get tough” with alleged shooters – Wake County D.A. Lorrin Freeman has promised to try the suspect in last week’s shooting as an adult if he survives his grave injuries – seem almost pathetic in their day-late and dollar-short impotence.
The bottom line: A lot of prayers for the victims and their families will be uttered in the aftermath of last week’s tragedy, but prayers for a society drowning in killing machines that does nothing of real substance to prevent mass murder from becoming an inevitable daily occurrence would be vastly more appropriate.