Gun violence in the USA: There is a method to madness


Two massacres shock the United States. Joe Biden wants to push through a weapons reform. But as soon as it comes to the dead from armed violence, sheer cynicism reigns in Washington.

If this wretched pandemic did anything good to the US, it might be this: 2020 passed without what Americans did mass shooting call, a gun massacre.

But now we’re back to American normalcy. This includes the fact that every couple of months, every couple of weeks and sometimes every couple of days a man kills several people with a weapon.

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First, a young man in Atlanta shot eight people in three massage parlors, and six days later a young man in Boulder killed ten people in a supermarket. This brings us to the subject that is causing so much head shaking out there in the world than almost any other: America and its weapons.

Now, it can be read everywhere, another arms debate is raging. But this term is one of the many misunderstandings when it comes to America’s gun culture. There is no debate. There are two sides that think and talk past each other. Some (a majority) do not want to accept that there are so many more guns in circulation in America and that so many more people die from gun violence than anywhere else. The others (a powerful minority) already see the proposal to make magazines for semi-automatic weapons so small that one can shoot only ten instead of thirty people without reloading, the beginning of the end of freedom, constitution, republic.

Now when President Joe Biden says it is time for change, Washington just waves it away. No majority in sight. You look at the whole thing from the capital from sober to cynical.

I’m a realist on the subject, too, and yet the news of the Colorado supermarket rampage caught me pretty cold. I’ve known the area well since living and working in Denver for three months on a journalism scholarship. And I know how much Denver suffers from being the amok capital of America.

You remember the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, in which two students dressed in black shot and killed twelve classmates and a teacher? That was in the suburbs of Denver. Do you remember how a young man stormed the late night screening of the new Batman film in 2012, killing twelve moviegoers and injuring 58? That was in Aurora, also a suburb of Denver. And now the ten dead in the supermarket in the colorful outdoor town of Boulder, less than half an hour from the center of Denver. And that’s just the big three.

Back then, I was in Denver for a long-term reportage about America’s gun culture and at some point I understood some things: that here, at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, people look suspiciously at the distant government in Washington anyway and, in case of doubt, prefer to defend themselves against all enemies. That you already know how many pistols, shotguns and assault rifles are in circulation and want nothing better than equality of arms for yourself. There is only one thing I didn’t understand: that people refuse to talk about the price of the right to self-defense.

You can guess at this price when you talk to people like Frank DeAngelis. He was the principal of Columbine High School at the time of the rampage. He is now 66 years old and retired.

DeAngelis is an open guy who likes to talk for a long time. You don’t get too close to him when you write that the rampage never let him go.

Ex-Rector DeAngelis: “Something like that changes the community forever.” (Source: Rick Wilking / Reuters)

When he talks about the time of the massacre at his school, he often closes his eyes. DeAngelis knows what triggers such an act: that it pulls the floor from under the feet of an entire community, that the survivors feel guilty, that the panic, the racing heart and the anxiety remain for many years. “Something like that changes the community forever,” he says.

We’ve been talking for quite a while when he brings up the darker consequences in his own life as well. This includes that his wife divorced him, that his daughter told him that he has changed. He is still in therapy today, says DeAngelis now, 22 years later.

He heard Biden’s speech immediately after the current massacre. He didn’t think it was bad, but it sounded just like it did when he spoke to Bill Clinton himself, and just like later, when Barack Obama really wanted to push through weapons reform after the elementary school massacre of Sandy Hook in 2012. “We have this discussion after every single rampage. We finally have to find a way to stop this pointless dying,” he says, slapping his desk.

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The last to approach were students from the high school in Parkland, Florida, where an ex-student shot and killed 14 teenagers and three teachers in February 2018. The young activists put a lot of pressure on. Organized huge protests in dozens of cities, harnessed the media for themselves, and later registered voters in order to shake the balance of power. The generation protested that had to sit quietly under the table for an hour in elementary school in order to train how to behave in a rampage.

They, too, have not been able to turn America’s arms policy.

It’s not that there aren’t any rules about guns, but everyone regulates a little and none of them really. Because of numerous loopholes, people who have been identified as violent or mentally ill can always buy military-style weapons: if not in the gun shop, then at one of the countless, barely controlled gun shows.

After the Parkland massacre, some cities in the country no longer wanted to wait for the state or Washington and arbitrarily banned semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifles. It is the weapons that are mostly used for these shootings.

It promptly filed lawsuits against this, and one city had to lift its ban earlier this month. This city is called, you might have guessed it: Boulder, Colorado. A good ten days later, a 21-year-old with a similar weapon marched into the supermarket there.

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