Editorial: Our gun scourge once again claims victims in Colorado

A healthcare worker and police officers at scene of Boulder, Colo., shooting
A healthcare worker and police officers outside a King Sooper’s grocery store in Boulder, Colo., after a gunman opened fire on Monday.
(Chet Strange / Getty Images)

Here we are again. Television screens filled with images of police cars and survivors telling panicked stories about the terror they endured as they process a close brush with death. The flashes of heroism recalled. The trickled-out stories of the lives of the unlucky who couldn’t manage to evade a bullet, and the scramble to figure out what possibly could have led another young man to commit such a murderous act.

The latest chapter in the endless book of American violence was written, tragically, at a King Soopers grocery store Monday afternoon in the liberal enclave of Boulder, Colo., near Denver. Once again, authorities couldn’t immediately suggest what motivated the shooter or who exactly was the target of this particular flash of rage, or hatred, or nihilism, or sickness that left 10 people dead.

For the record:

12:29 p.m. March 23, 2021An earlier version of this editorial said the Columbine Massacre occurred in 2009. It occurred in 1999.

It’s important to recognize that these victims were not strangled, were not knifed, were not poisoned or beaten or thrown from windows or hanged or drowned or made victim to whatever other fancy might have entered the mind of a murderer. They were shot dead while they walked through the routines of their daily lives and, in the case of Police Officer Eric Talley, as he did his job by responding to reports of a man with a gun shooting up a grocery store.


On Tuesday, law enforcement officials said they were leveling 10 charges of murder against 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of the Denver suburb of Arvada; Alissa’s brother described him to the Daily Beast as paranoid and “very anti-social.” But again, investigators have yet to determine a motive for the shooting.

We’ve gotten to the point where we have a code phrase for the obligatory but meaningless public reactions of political leaders: “thoughts and prayers,” the “gesundheit” for this common affliction — gun death — a violence so routine we even have linguistic rituals for it.

Such mass killing incidents are a minor part of our quotidian encounters with gun violence. Yet, Boulder’s atrocity was the second in a week, following hard on the heels of the shooting rampage at Atlanta-area spas in which six of eight victims were Asian women. And it reminded us of Colorado’s grim history of mass killings, including the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and the 2012 massacre of moviegoers in Aurora, both also in the Denver area.

More common are mass shootings in which at least four people are wounded — 11 of those have occurred around the country in the past week, killing 27 and wounding 39 others, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Then there are the run-of-the-mill acts of gun violence that happen multiple times per hour. As of Tuesday morning, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 4,123 people shot dead in the U.S. since the start of the year. That doesn’t include the 5,412 people who shot themselves to death.

So by the 82nd day of the calendar year, at least 9,535 people have died by gunfire here in the U.S.

This is America’s enduring, persistent, gut-wrenching, soul-searing and devastating reality. This is where we are in America today. And yesterday. And last year. And the year before and for damn sure where we in America will be tomorrow and for the foreseeable future. Because all of our outrage combined has not been enough to move political leaders and policymakers to act for the public good.


Yet that is our constant tension. The man police allege perpetrated the Boulder massacre exercised what some Americans consider their 2nd Amendment right to walk around armed with a military-style semiautomatic weapon. And they allege he used that weapon to commit horrific crimes, putting the lie to the Declaration of Independence’s notion that we are all entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That guarantee apparently comes with an asterisk: It only applies if we can outrun a bullet.

There are no persuasive 2nd Amendment arguments that overcome the reality that, with an estimated 400 million guns in circulation in the United States, we all must live with some degree of risk of getting shot. Congress is once again working through a menu of bills that would mandate background checks for nearly all transfers of firearms, close a loophole that allows gun sales to proceed if a background check isn’t finished within three days, and ban combat-style semiautomatic rifles — so-called assault weapons. Those are basic, common-sense moves in the right direction, yet 2nd Amendment fetishists won’t concede an inch, so even baby steps appear to be beyond us.

So here we are again. Still.