October 27, 2014
A mass shooting every 3 weeks: We don’t have to live like this
The chairman of the stricken Tulalip Tribes, a community filled with family of the Marysville-Pilchuck High School gunman, summed up how we deal with mass shootings.
The massacre of 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut nearly two years ago didn’t prompt us to do much about our gun-violence disease. We didn’t even admit we’re sick.
So another school shooting, as wrenching as it is because it happened right here at Marysville-Pilchuck High School on Friday, seems unlikely to prompt more than the typical cycle of grieve, shrug and move on that has become a hallmark of the American mass-shooting culture.
When shootings happen elsewhere, “We can always say that we watch it on TV,” said Herman Williams, chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, a community in which the shooter’s family is prominent. “But, my, here it comes walking in our door.”
Yes, here it came. Again.
It may be futile, but it’s worth saying — again — that we don’t have to live like this. Shootings can and do occur all over the world. But no first-world country tolerates them like we do. No society just watches them on TV. And in no other country do public shootings repeat as regularly as the weather, as they do here.
When you first saw that telltale helicopter footage of terrified kids running onto the athletic fields Friday, it’s understandable if your reaction was to groan, “Here we go again.” Because it’s not your imagination: Large-scale public shootings like this one are on the rise (even as overall gun crime is down).
Last month the FBI, no left-wing gun-control group, released new data that got almost no attention in our gun-crazy land. It focused on exactly the kind of shooting that happened Friday — in which someone whips out a gun and starts shooting up a crowded public place. The FBI wanted to separate those public shootings from more typical criminal mass murders, such as gang killings or in-home domestic violence killings. So the FBI looked at what it calls “active shooter incidents,” meaning when someone just opens fire in public.
What it found is that active shooting incidents are becoming far more common.
They are still rare, obviously. But they now happen in the U.S. once every three weeks or so. As recently as the early 2000s, they happened only once every 10 weeks — meaning they are now three times more common.
In a report published this month,researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health examined mass shootings, defined as public shootings in which four or more people died. They found these shootings are happening three times more often, since 2011 than they did during the 30-year period before that.
The Northwest has become a big contributor to this demoralizing trend. We have had three school shootings just this year — at Marysville-Pilchuck High School on Friday, at Reynolds High School in Oregon in June and at Seattle Pacific University, also in June. For 2014, we are, suddenly, the school-shooting capital.
There are no easy answers to any of this. The gun folks are at least partially right — gun control likely will be ineffective, especially at first, at preventing mass shootings. The gun Jaylen Fryberg used to kill one classmate and severely wound four others was legally acquired, according to the ATF (though it was illegal for him to be carrying it in school).
With as many guns in America as people, measures such as expanding background checks, banning assault weapons or increased licensing or training for gun ownership could take years, even generations, to have an effect.
But many other countries have done it anyway. After spree shootings, they take mass societal and governmental steps that say, “This will not be repeated.” They aren’t perfect, but they help. Only America, among first-world nations, sits back and waits for the next tragedy to come knocking.
The Tulalip Tribes’ chairman is right — what we do is we watch it on TV. It’s our way to gawk and share in the pain a little. But eventually we change the channel, until the next one comes walking in somebody else’s door. Which will be in about three weeks.