America’s shameful tradition of gun violence turned ugly again Tuesday night at a Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia.
At least six people were killed in the store, according to local officials, and four others were injured in area hospitals.
This comes after the shooting at the University of Virginia that left three people dead two weeks ago, and even more recently the shooting at a Colorado Springs LGBTQ nightclub that left five people dead.
It’s hard not to see each incident as another byproduct of America’s polarized gun debate.
Many Americans consider their right to bear arms, enshrined in the US Constitution, to be sacrosanct. But others say that right threatens another, the right to life.
Each shot seems to reinforce everyone’s respective beliefs.
Keep an eye out for Glenn Youngkin
In an all-too-familiar cycle, the shooting will lead some to more gun control and others to lobby for less gun regulation. A heated debate ensues before the issue fades from the national conversation.
Then another shot occurs and we start the cycle again.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday again called on Congress to take action, but the reality of a divided Congress is in January makes it unlikely.
“This year I signed the most important gun reform in a generation, but it’s not nearly enough. We have to take bigger actions,” the president’s statement said.
A more interesting political reaction to watch is Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, who some have touted as a future powerful player in Republican politics.
“Our hearts go out to the Chesapeake community this morning. I remain in contact with law enforcement officials this morning and have provided any resources as this investigation progresses. Heinous acts of violence have no place in our communities,” Youngkin tweeted Wednesday morning.
His message closely echoes his response to the shooting at the University of Virginia. “I know that there is nothing that can be said, there is nothing that can be done to be done to bring them any kind of comfort today. And so I think this is a moment for us to come together to support them, to pray for them, to realize that as a community this is an opportunity to come together and grieve and support them. It’s just terrifying, there’s no other way to describe it,” Youngkin said a temporary memorial at the school.
On Thanksgiving, Youngkin also asked his state tweet to “raise with prayer” the families of the victims of mass shootings.
Absent from his answers, heartfelt as they are, is any mention of weapons.
If Youngkin is indeed the future “unifier” of the Republican Party, it appears that this will not extend to gun control.
More guns, more gun violence
States have a direct correlation with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings, according to a January study. Published by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization focused on gun violence prevention.
Yet the political debate over gun control in America often goes beyond the data.
Consider this. There were at least 607 mass shootings on November 22 of this year. defined as one in which at least four people are shot. That’s just down from 638 mass shootings nationwide at this time last year, the worst year on record since the nonprofit. The Gun Violence Archive began tracking them in 2014. In 2021, there were a total of 690 mass shootings.
The United States is likely to soon surpass the total of 610 mass shootings in 2020, with more than a month left in 2022.
The scariest thing is the direction the data is trending. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the firearm homicide rate in 2021 was 8.3% higher than in 2020. The firearm suicide rate among people age 10 and older also increased by 8.3% from 2020 to 2021. Homicides attributed to gunshot wounds rose from 79% in 2020 to 81% in 2021, the highest percentage in 50 years.
It certainly doesn’t have to be this way. A previous, in-depth analysis by CNN found that countries that introduced laws to reduce gun-related deaths achieved significant changes.
Australia. Less than two weeks after Australia’s worst mass shooting, the federal government has implemented a new plan to ban rapid-fire rifles and shotguns and unify gun owner licenses and registrations across the country. In the next 10 years, gun deaths in Australia fell by more than 50%. A 2010 study found that the government’s 1997 buyback program, part of the overall reform, led to a 74% drop in the average rate of gun suicides in the five years that followed.
South Africa. Gun-related deaths nearly halved in the 10 years since the July 2000 gun control legislation went into effect in July 2004. The new laws made it much more difficult to obtain firearms.
New Zealand. After the Christchurch mosque shootings in 2019, gun laws were quickly changed. Just 24 hours after the attack, in which 51 people died, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the law would be changed. New Zealand’s parliament voted almost unanimously to change the country’s gun laws a month later, banning all military-style semi-automatic weapons.
Britain. (The country) tightened its gun laws and banned most private gun ownership after a mass shooting in 1996, a move that saw the death toll drop by nearly a quarter in a decade.
But America’s relationship with guns is unique, and our gun culture is a global oddity. For now, the deadly cycle of violence seems destined to continue.
What has the federal government done?
Recall that Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June when the House of Representatives and the Senate approved the measure. The package represents the most significant federal legislation addressing gun violence since the 10-year expiration of the Assault Weapons Act of 1994.
“God willing, it will save a lot of lives,” Biden said at the White House as he signed the bill.
The package includes $750 million to help states implement and administer crisis intervention programs that can be used to manage red flag programs as well as other crisis intervention programs such as mental health, drug courts and veterans courts.
Red flag laws established by federal decree are also known as Extreme Risk Protection Order laws. They allow courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from anyone deemed a danger to themselves or others.
The legislation encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which would provide a more comprehensive background check for people between the ages of 18 and 21 who want to buy a gun.
It also requires more individuals who sell guns as a primary source of income to register as federally licensed firearms dealers, who are required to conduct background checks before selling anyone a gun.
The law prohibits anyone convicted of a domestic violence crime who has an “ongoing serious relationship of a romantic or intimate nature” from carrying a gun. The law, however, allows those convicted of domestic violence crimes to regain their gun rights after five years if they have not committed other crimes.
On Thursday, Biden told reporters that he would work with Congress to “try to get rid of assault weapons.”
Pressed about whether he would attempt to do so during a lame duck session, he said: “I’ll do it whenever, I’ll have to make that assessment as soon as I get in and start counting the votes.”
Congress returns next week with a to-do list focused mostly on the government funding bill, as well as other priorities. But any action on gun legislation, especially the ban that Biden has repeatedly called for, does not have the votes to pass. And the reality of a divided Congress heading into next year’s session makes it highly unlikely that anything will pass in the next two years.