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After another mass shooting, this time on October 1st at an Oregon community college, President Obama went on television to say, “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.”

Mass Shooting

Another U.S. Mass Shooting: Why Do They Keep Going On?—Walter G. Moss

After an Alabama gunman killed or wounded eleven innocent victims at a movie theater in Lafayette, La. in late July, 2015 a Washington Post article declared, “Another day, another massacre, and once again it’s a gunman targeting strangers in a public place for no obvious reason. Each of these mass shootings, or rampage shootings, or ‘active shooter’ events, has its special element of horror, whether it’s racism or misogyny or sheer randomness.”

The reference to racism could refer to any number of incidences, but a June 2015 racist-motivated shooting which killed nine people at a black church in Charleston comes most readily to mind. Two months later, on August 26, a fatal shooting of two Virginia white TV journalists occurred. The shooter was a black man who believed he was a victim of racism. Following this shooting, one article noted that “Aug. 26 is the 238th day of the year” and, “the number of [U.S.] mass shooting incidents has risen to 247 for the year.”

Reflecting on the pre-August killings, columnist Timothy Egan wrote in The New York Times:

The waves of mass shootings continue to roll over the United States like surf on the ship of state’s prow. Every few weeks now we get hit with a jolt of cold water. We shake and shudder, and then brace ourselves for the next one.

The waves of mass shootings continue to roll over the United States like surf on the ship of state’s prow. Every few weeks now we get hit with a jolt of cold water. We shake and shudder, and then brace ourselves for the next one.

So we beat on—a nation whose people are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of most other developed countries. The only thing extraordinary about mass shootings in America is how ordinary the killing grounds are—elementary schools, high schools, colleges, military recruitment centers, theaters, parks, churches.

In his October 1 comments, President Obama emphasized U.S. uniqueness among “advanced” countries not only in regard to having so many mass shootings, but also in having such poor gun laws.

Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws—even in the face of repeated mass killings.” And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day! Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this.

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: We need more guns, they’ll argue. Fewer gun safety laws.

Does anybody really believe that? There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country --they know that's not true. We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws -- including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.

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There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America. So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer? We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths. So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence.

We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings. Friends of ours, allies of ours —Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours. So we know there are ways to prevent it.

Both the president’s words and Egan’s article indicate what many other commentators have observed: that more violence occurs in the United States than in most other “developed countries.” Why is this? Are our lax gun laws and abundance of guns, as President Obama indicates, one reason? How about our Wild West background and the violence of our history from the killing of native Americans, through slavery and the Civil War up to the present? Yes, undoubtedly they are part of the explanation. But as good historians realize, causation for historical events is usually multiple and complex.

Thus, keeping that in mind, let me suggest two other reasons (among many) for why all these mass shootings continue and all the individual tragedies that reverberate among stricken families and communities continue.

First, our culture encourages violence more than peace and non-violence. I have written about this in other places, most recently in “Two Texans in Iraq: An American Sniper and Billy Lynn.” That essay mentions an insightful piece by David Masciotra that appeared on the Salon website, contrasting two views of masculinity as presented in American Sniper and Selma. In the first film, we see “the prevailing and prevalent projection of American manhood [which] is at once a cartoon, simplistic in its emphasis on strength and eschewal of sensitivity, and dangerous in its celebratory zeal for violence. It is not masculine as much as macho.” The second film, about Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil-rights protestors, displays a truer and nobler type of masculinity. Unfortunately, however, our culture heroes, whether historical or in movies or television, are more likely to be “shooters” (like the “American Sniper”) or other fighting men than pacifists like King. George Washington was a general before becoming president and John Kennedy was a war hero before becoming one. Can most Americans even name one other pacifist besides King? And why is King most admired? Because he was a pacifist or because he fought (albeit nonviolently) to overcome discrimination?

Second, our political leaders, especially the Republicans, are not pragmatic enough to work for the common good. In his recent address to Congress, Pope Francis urged the legislators to work for the “common good” and “in a spirit of openness and pragmatism” in order to create “a culture of care.” Almost four years ago, I bemoaned the lack of compromise in Congress, the failure of that body to work pragmatically together to advance the common good. Today the situation is no better. What a travesty our Congress has become! In his October 1 remarks, President Obama once again addressed the problem:

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction. . . .

So, tonight, as those of us who are lucky enough to hug our kids a little closer are thinking about the families who aren't so fortunate, I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save lives, and to let young people grow up. And that will require a change of politics on this issue. And it will require that the American people, individually, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, when you decide to vote for somebody, are making a determination as to whether this cause of continuing death for innocent people should be a relevant factor in your decision. If you think this is a problem, then you should expect your elected officials to reflect your views.


And I would particularly ask America’s gun owners—who are using those guns properly, safely, to hunt, for sport, for protecting their families— to think about whether your views are properly being represented by the organization that suggests it's speaking for you.

And each time this happens I'm going to bring this up. Each time this happens I am going to say that we can actually do something about it, but we're going to have to change our laws. And this is not something I can do by myself. I've got to have a Congress and I've got to have state legislatures and governors who are willing to work with me on this.

walter moss

Walter Moss

President Obama ended his remarks saying that he hoped and prayed that he would not again have to come out and offer condolences to families who lose loved ones to mass shootings, but he “can't guarantee that.” How many more tragedies will families have to suffer before Congress, Democrats and Republicans, put ideological biases aside and do what they are paid to do—legislate for the common good?

Walter G. Moss