Official Washington might have averted its gaze from the scourge of gun violence to focus on the unfolding impeachment drama surrounding President Donald Trump. But it’s been a deadly six weeks in cities and towns across America.
Between Aug. 31 - when seven people were fatally shot in Odessa, Texas - and Oct. 9, there have been a total of 45 mass shootings across the nation this year, leaving 79 people dead and 159 more wounded.
That’s according to research by The Gun Violence Archive, an online database that’s compiled from more than 6,500 law enforcement, media and commercial sources every day. The group defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are either injured or killed, not including the shooter.
Among them was an Oct. 6 shooting at a tequila bar in Kansas City, Ks., in which four people were killed and five more wounded. A day later, on Oct. 7, five people were killed in a shooting in Abington, Mass., near Boston, in what authorities ruled a murder-suicide. Three of the dead were children, the Boston Globe reported.
Despite the cries for a solution by survivors and their advocates, and an initial burst of activity on Capitol Hill after Congress returned to session in September, exactly nothing has changed. Congress has not passed expanded background checks or a measure encouraging so-called “red flag” bills that are specifically intended to prevent firearms-related suicides.
That’s the price of inaction: 45 mass shootings. 159 wounded. And 79 dead.
In the nearly seven years that have passed since 26 people, including 20 children, were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., anti-gun violence advocates have grown frustratingly accustomed to the burst of energy, and then the seemingly inevitable legislative paralysis, that follows each act of violence.
“We allow a small, but loud, group of gun enthusiasts far too much power,” said Shanna Danielson, a central Pennsylvania educator, mom, and member of the grassroots gun-violence prevention group Moms Demand Action. “We live in mass hysteria now so that a few insecure people can feel important?”
Certainly a large portion of the blame lies with President Trump, who with each mass shooting, has embraced gun violence reduction measures, only to drop them in the face of pressure from his base and the National Rifle Association.
Equal blame lies with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who effectively scuttles any debate on guns by saying he wouldn’t bring a bill to a vote unless he was certain the eternally fickle Trump would sign it.
Since then? 45 mass shootings. 159 wounded. And 79 dead.
It’s not as if McConnell’s home state has been immune from gun violence. According to a local television station, a 33-year-old man from New Concord, Ky., was in critical condition after being shot in the leg with a shotgun during an alleged altercation last week.
The all-encompassing nature of the impeachment debate is “clearly crowding out the opportunity to do most other kinds of legislation at the moment,” Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said. “My hope is this moment doesn’t last terribly long. And after it has passed, we’re able to and maybe even more able to pass some legislation.”
Toomey is co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., that would expand gun background checks to all commercial sales, including gun shows and online sales. But anti-gun violence advocates have called on Toomey to drop that effort and instead get behind what they say is a stronger measure sponsored by Sen. Christopher Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, who hails from Newtown.
Toomey’s Democratic counterpart from Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey, said McConnell and Republicans are “playing with fire” by dragging their feet on such key issues as guns, healthcare reform, and fighting climate change.
McConnell has been “more reactive than he has been,” Casey allowed. “We’ll see when we go back in October and November, see if can get away with it. If not, there will be a verdict in November 2020 and the president should be concerned about it.”
In the meantime, by the time you finish reading this, someone, somewhere, will have been shot with a gun in America. The data suggests they might die.
Because that’s the price of inaction.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa.