Column: We marked the Fourth of July in an exceptionally American way: with a hail of gun violence

Balloons, candles and mementos for a mass shooting victim on a sidewalk in Philadelphia.
Mementos and candles are seen at a memorial for a victim of a fatal July 3 mass shooting in Philadelphia.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)
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For most Americans, the numbers in the news over the Fourth of July holiday period were beyond depressing: 23 dead and 130 injured, including children and teens, in 23 mass shootings from Saturday through early Wednesday, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.

That’s American exceptionalism at its worst. No other developed nation comes close to the United States in gun violence casualties and costs.

Yet other Americans, it turns out, were focused on different numbers — and they were celebrating! Why? Because June was the 47th consecutive month in which more than a million firearms were sold in a country that already has more guns than people.


Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes

Opinion columnist for the
Los Angeles Times in Washington, D.C. ...

“What better way to celebrate America’s birthday than by exercising one of its most cherished and fundamental freedoms?” Dan Zimmerman of the pro-firearm blog The Truth About Guns wrote on the Fourth. “That’s exactly what the American public did in June, and continues to do, month after month.”

Actual gun sales are probably even higher. The 1-million-plus estimate is from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade group, based on data from the loophole-ridden federal background checks database. “These figures buck the demands by gun control politicians to surrender rights,” Zimmerman approvingly quoted another gun advocate as saying. “Americans choose differently.”

In fact, Americans do not choose differently: Eight out of 10 registered voters, including most Republicans, want criminal background and mental health checks for all gun buyers; a minimum age of 21 and a 30-day waiting period for firearm purchases; and gun possession bans for people deemed a danger to themselves or others. And 6 in 10 voters, including a third of Republicans, favor banning assault rifles and semiautomatic weapons. Those were the findings of a recent Fox News poll, which was consistent with myriad other national polls over time.

The disconnect between the overwhelming support for commonsense gun restrictions — Americans rarely agree on anything by such margins — and the failure to enact them nationwide is among the strongest evidence of the country’s antidemocratic drift, driven by a radicalized Republican Party.

Amid the holiday carnage, President Biden called yet again for gun controls, impotent words now as predictable as the next hail of bullets. Also predictable: the willful “thoughts and prayers” helplessness of the MAGA Republicans who run the House, many of them flaunting miniature AR-15 pins and in thrall to gun-nut groups and a like-minded minority of their constituents.

America’s assault weapons ban, in effect from 1994 to 2004, shows that such a law enacted now would mean many fewer Nashvilles in the future.

March 30, 2023

Democrats narrowly control the Senate, but they’re just as deaf to Biden’s pleas. Except for last year’s bipartisan measure modestly tightening firearm restrictions, the party has been afraid to push gun regulation since it lost both chambers of Congress in a gun-lobby-driven backlash against the assault weapons ban passed in 1994. They’re not about to press the issue when their majority is at stake in next year’s elections. Senate Democrats are trying to keep seats they hold in the red states of Montana, West Virginia and Ohio as well as the gun-friendly swing states of Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

The paralysis at the federal level allows for a patchwork of state gun laws. States that Republicans control are busy erasing gun regulations: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, building his Republican presidential platform, recently championed an insane law allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a permit in a state that has seen some of the nation’s worst gun massacres. The states that Democrats control have enacted some new restrictions, including assault weapons bans, that can be evaded by crossing state lines. And in those with divided government, nothing happens despite public support for more limitations.


And now political cowards in both parties have the excuse that the Republican-packed Supreme Court has made it much harder for any gun control to pass constitutional muster. Last year’s Bruen decision held that judges should no longer weigh the public interest in considering whether gun restrictions intended to make communities safer are constitutional. Instead, judges must look to the nation’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation,” which in fact is less hostile to gun control than the conservative justices claimed.

Much like the court’s ruling overturning abortion rights, the gun decision has spawned political and legal chaos. And more is coming. A three-judge panel of the far-right U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit recently cited Bruen in striking down a federal law barring people with domestic violence records from possessing firearms.

Five people killed in a Philadelphia mass shooting this week included a man whose daughter was about to marry and a teen who tried to save his friend.

July 6, 2023

On the last day of June — that 47th straight month of a million-plus gun sales — the Supreme Court announced that it would decide in the next term whether states can keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. The stakes couldn’t be higher: About half the women killed by guns in this country are victims of domestic violence. But gun control advocates, and abuse victims, are not sanguine about where the court will come down: Public safety no longer trumps its expansive reading of the 2nd Amendment.

I initially hesitated to write about gun politics again, since I covered this issue in March after a Nashville school shooting. The nation is inured, I told myself.

But this can’t be written off as normal. These numbers aren’t just numbers. They’re people.