I woke up on the Fourth of July, very much in the spirit of celebrating Independence Day.
After all, it’s a great day to feel patriotic and recognize that, for all its mounting problems, America is the greatest country on Earth.
And then, the day turned dark as we were reminded yet again that we have no independence from mass shootings. In a way, July 4 was stolen from us.
The shooting from a rooftop in a Chicago suburb by yet another crazed and heinous gunman raises so many chilling questions. Can we no longer have July 4 parades without police sharpshooters stationed on every nearby roof? Who will feel comfortable attending next year? Can we no longer have parades at all? What about other mass gatherings where it’s impossible for authorities to secure the area?
This may sound like an overreaction, but the purpose of terrorism, of which this is a textbook definition, is to instill fear. Even if the chances are infinitesimal that you might be shot at, it’s hard to push it out of your mind after the massacres in Buffalo, Texas, and now Highland Park, on the nation’s birthday, that killed at least seven people and wounded 40 others.
The police have a “person of interest” in custody – once again, I won’t reward insane attention-seekers by naming him – but the evidence is highly suggestive. He is a white rapper from the Chicago area whose social media page describes him as a “hip-hop phenom,” his face and neck covered with tattoos. You will not be surprised to learn that his page features violent imagery, including a heavily armed shooter going into a school. Police say they made a DNA match.
The shooting comes just nine days after President Biden signed a modest bipartisan compromise aimed at gun safety, mental health and school security. That is all he is likely to get from Congress.
But even if Biden, who says “we got a lot more work to do” and “we have to fight for it,”, had gotten the more sweeping changes that he and many Democrats support, it’s questionable whether it would have stopped the slaughter.
The president’s party wanted to raise the age for the purchase of rifles from 18 to 21; the suspect is 21, but of course could have waited till he turned 22.
Biden and most Democrats wanted a national red flag law, but it wouldn’t have worked here and didn’t work in New York state, where the Buffalo shooter unleashed a racially motivated attack on mostly Black supermarket shoppers.
It’s possible that a nationwide ban on assault-style weapons, which Biden helped pass in 1994 and Congress repealed a decade later, could have mitigated the damage. Police say the Highland Park shooter used a rifle similar to an AR-15, and if such semiautomatic weapons were banned, he might not have gotten off 70 shots. (He had a second rifle in his car.) Authorities said many victims suffered “war wounds.”
It’s time to be honest and admit no law can stop every mass shooting. The bipartisan bill was a step forward, and will have been worth it even if it stops one or two shootings. Every life is precious.
But with the number of privately owned guns flooding this country, the goal of stopping people with criminal intent – but no past criminal record – is like climbing a very tall mountain.
Let’s look instead at the rise of violent rage in this country. How did America produce so many young men who are so consumed by hate, so drawn to shooting people, so desperate to go out in a blaze of glory that they are willing to die in the process?
They plan these attacks for months–there is clearly a copycat aspect–seemingly determined to top previous massacres. They indiscriminately open fire, in theaters, nightclubs, at marathons, on college campuses, in elementary schools–twice–and, now, parades. They are beyond remorse, beyond any semblance of normal human feeling. They want to kill as many strangers as they can.
This is not some kind of plea to examine the root causes of alienation. How sick and twisted do you have to be to aspire to the random taking of human life?
Police said the suspect had no clear motive. I really don’t care what his motive is. The victims ranged in age from eight to 85. This is sheer madness.
J.B. Pritzker, Illinois’ Democratic governor, said he was “furious” and that “there are going to be people who say that today is not the day, that now is not the time, to talk about guns. I’m telling you there is no better day and no better time than right here and right now.”
Highland Park, where “Home Alone” was filmed, has large Jewish and Asian communities and a historically low crime rate. Illinois has the sixth-toughest gun laws in the country. But authorities say many of the crimes committed there, including in everyday Chicago street crime, involve guns from out of state, underscoring that no governor can seal the borders.
And so the community and the nation is left with a sense of searing pain that Independence Day was hijacked, darkening the day that so many of us yearned to celebrate.