Numb. That’s the only word for it. California awoke this morning to reports of another mass shooting, this time in Thousand Oaks, a suburban community that prides itself on being among the safest cities in America. More than 100 people, many of them college kids, were in the Borderline Bar & Grill country dance bar when a man dressed in black walked in with some sort of smoke-generating device and opened fire with a .45-caliber Glock handgun, killing 11 people inside and Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, one of the first law-enforcement officers to arrive, before dying of a gunshot himself.
Motive? Too soon to say. Was the gun bought legally? Again, that’s the kind of detail that will filter out in the coming hours and days. Preventable? That answer ranges from apparently not to who the hell knows?
Numb. The Gun Violence Archive reports that gunmen have shot and killed 1,096 people, including the Thousand Oaks victims, in California since the first of the year. In the same period, gunmen nationwide have taken the lives of 114 people in 18 mass killings, defined as incidents in which at least four people are killed excluding the shooter. No place seems safe. In recent years Americans have been gunned down en masse in schools and houses of worship, music venues and in their own homes. The shooters have been motivated by racism, by rage over politics, by mental illness; in some cases, their reasons remain inscrutable.
And the president would have us tremble in fear of immigrants.
It is impossible to imagine the grief of the families of the victims. A tragic irony is that a few of the people in the dance bar Wednesday night had also been in the crowd 13 months ago when a gunman opened fire from a sniper’s nest in the Mandalay Bay hotel on the Route 91 Harvest festival across the street, killing 58 people and wounding 413 more. On that occasion, an additional 454 people suffered injuries in the mad scramble to find cover or escape the open-air venue. On Wednesday, more than a dozen people similarly suffered injuries as they scrambled for safety, including crawling through windows shattered with bar furniture.
This is just one more episode in our endless rolling tragedy of gun violence. Less than two weeks ago an antiSemitic gunman ranting about immigration killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Eight weeks ago six people died when a gunman moved through Bakersfield firing in anger over a broken relationship. Twelve weeks ago a distraught father in the Northern California city of Clearlake shot his four children, killing three of them before killing himself. And on goes the body count.
In recent years these killings have happened in every corner of the country, from an Oregon community college to a San Bernardino holiday party to a Florida high school to a Connecticut elementary school. As the sharp pain of grief subsides to a persistent ache, calls for stricter gun control laws are shushed by the gun lobby, which accuses those who try to fix this scourge of not showing appropriate respect for the dead, of politicizing tragedy. But this country would be much better off showing more respect for the living by limiting easy access to guns, thereby reducing these grotesque levels of violence.
There are far, far too many guns floating around the U.S., both legally and illegally owned. Time was, people bought guns to go hunting, or to practice target shooting. In recent years gun owners have told poll-takers that their guns are for personal safety. Yet they are far more often used to threaten, intimidate or kill family members, or in suicides. Less often, but with more notice taken, they are used to mow down mass numbers of people, as occurred Wednesday night here in California, which has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation.
Is this a fixable problem? There has long been a lack of political will to take on the powerful National Rifle Assn., but at some point, that apparent lack of political will by default becomes the political will: We decide through inaction that the status quo is acceptable.
Is that what Americans want? Are we willing to let the bodies stack up on the principle that we all need our own personal arsenals to fight the bogeyman of tyranny? Have we been outgunned by a heartless adversary that cares more about cold steel than warm, beating hearts?
For the sake of the future victims, we hope not.