Mass shootings are a part of American life. They occur with numbing regularity, and can happen at nearly any venue imaginable. The past few years have seen mass shootings at churches, shopping malls, outdoor concerts, restaurants and schools.
The era of mass shootings — for that is clearly what we’re living through — began in Littleton, Colo., some two decades ago at Columbine High School. The details change but the template is the same — indiscriminate killing on a vast scale with the intent to terrorize.
That’s why the word “shooting” doesn’t accurately convey what these events entail. They are designed to kill, but also to strike fear into people far beyond the scene of the crime. There’s a word for that, one we’ve been loath to use for anything that isn’t international in scope but that is increasingly apt as the crisis grows. That word is terrorism.
The nation was struck by two mass-shooting terrorism incidents this past weekend, in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The latter incident more closely fits the template we’ve come to expect. The shooter was apparently a young white man with deeply misogynistic beliefs but no apparent political motive. That it followed so closely after the first attack gave it special resonance — otherwise, it may not have stood out on its own, tragic as that sounds.
The El Paso attack was different.
Mass shootings, as mentioned, long predate Donald Trump’s presidency. But it would be foolish to ignore the parallels between Trump’s language and the El Paso shooter’s apparent manifesto, ranting about an “invasion” from Mexico and immigrants undermining the American way of life. Trump has built his political career on such racism, opening his presidential campaign in 2015 by calling Mexicans who were coming to the United States “rapists.”
His words matter. It is deeply dangerous for an American leader to espouse racist beliefs that inspire the worst in people. Residents of Hispanic heritage have said they are terrified of others responding to the president’s hatred by killing even more people, and it’s not an unwarranted fear. The president’s ugly rhetoric must stop, and it is essential for everyone in a position of authority to call out his destructive words for what they truly are — racist and hateful.
As for a solution, the aftermath of the two attacks has seen calls for action on mental health and video games and other old standbys, as if the rest of the world didn’t have access to the same culture we have or suffer the same mental health problems. Somehow the rest of the world gets by without regularly shooting up a Walmart.
The issue is guns. It’s the easy access to weapons that kill many people in a short period. Dozens can be killed or injured before authorities can react. Until we understand the problem, we will never find a solution.
Congress knows that, even if the president likely doesn’t. Whether the latest atrocities are enough to take any action is far from certain. But if not now, when?