The mass shooting in Long Beach late Tuesday lacked the shocking drama of someone mowing down children in a school, or worshippers in a church, or college students out for a night of dancing at a Thousands Oaks country bar.
So you didn’t see the usual wall-to-wall news coverage, especially given the media competition from wildfires here in California and the political conflagration consuming Washington. You also didn’t see the traditional expressions of thoughts and prayers from political figures in a position to actually do something about gun violence. (Yes, we have a societal tradition for responding to mass shootings; how sick is that?)
This time the scene was just a house in Long Beach. Three people shot dead, at least nine more people wounded with varying degrees of severity, so a dozen people in all lying dead or bleeding in a scene of carnage discovered after neighbors heard what some estimated to be 20 or so gun shots.
It’s the everyday nature of this incident that should offend the public consciousness. Details will unfold, at least for those still paying attention, about the context. Maybe it was gang-related. Maybe someone who was kicked out of a party returned with a weapon to avenge a social slight with gunfire. Maybe a former lover poured out his jealousy in a stream of bullets.
Maybe this, maybe that, each with a built-in rationalization for those who seek them. “Damn gangs — the police need to crack down.” “The guy must have been crazy to shoot up a house because they asked him to leave.” (As if there might be a threshold after which shooting up a house would be reasonable.) “Domestic violence — what are you going to do?” “Someone should have read the hints and acted before it got to this point.” (Talk about blaming the victims.)
The context is important to the specifics of this particular crime, of course, but not to the broader issue. Because whatever the shooter’s motive, if a gun hadn’t been handy, a dozen people would not have been shot. Three people would not be dead, and at least nine others wouldn’t be clinging to life or facing a future of trying to recover from wounds both physical and emotional.
Will a ban on combat-style weapons stop mass shootings? No, since gun deaths overwhelmingly come in ones and twos, and usually involve a handgun. Will a regimen of mandatory background checks stop this? Not by itself, no. Red flag laws? No. But all those measures can help reduce the frequency and deadliness of such incidents. Yet we can’t even muster up the political will to do something so obvious as making it harder for people with a demonstrated history of violence from having guns.
Meanwhile, in Long Beach, another set of families and friends wrestles with the anguish and turmoil of planning funerals for people dead well before their time. And few of us even notice.