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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: Another day, another shooting in a country sick with gun violence

Paramedics wheeled a woman out of the Boise Towne Square mall Macy's following reports of multiple shots fired and multiple injuries on Monday.   (Darin Oswald/Screengrab from video)
Paramedics wheeled a woman out of the Boise Towne Square mall Macy's following reports of multiple shots fired and multiple injuries on Monday.  (Darin Oswald/Screengrab from video)

Three dead. Four injured.

Ho hum.

As awful as the shooting at the Boise Towne Square was – another sick, sad day in our gun violence epidemic, with people shot to death near the Cinnabon – it was also completely routine in another sense, as mundane as the daily news gets. It happens so often that every single tragedy now comes muffled in a deadening cotton of actions and reactions and inactions that are so routine you can predict them exactly.

Politicians offer thoughts and prayers and nothing else. Neighbors rally around each other with love and support. Someone makes a bumper sticker or a T-shirt: BoiseStrong. Gun zealots rush to the ramparts to call for more guns. Everyone awaits the details of the case as if they might shine a light on this darkness.

And even this – this recognition that the mundanity of the slaughter produces a tired old pattern of massacre cliches – is by now a cliche.

Meanwhile, inside of this circus, out of sight, a few families suffer a private grief that will never end.

And then it happens again somewhere else, right away.

Ho hum.

If you’re not right there, right at the scene or near it – if you’re living in across the country, say – you may not even hear about it, or you’ll forget it quickly if you do.

On Monday, the same day as the Boise shooting, one man was killed and three were injured in a shooting in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Four teenagers were injured in a shooting in Memphis.

On Sunday, two were killed and three injured in Crenshaw, Mississippi.

On Saturday, one was killed and seven injured in Fort Valley, Georgia. One was killed and four injured in Ontario, California. Six were injured in Florence, South Carolina.

Remember all those?

Just last Thursday, four people were killed in a shooting in Tacoma. Three members of the same family died. Shooter’s at large. The vigil’s over.

Remember that one? Way back when?

There’s been a good deal of attention paid to the rise in homicides during the pandemic – a 30% increase that is the biggest year-over-year increase since we started keeping records. But this epidemic preceded the pandemic.

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit project that attempts to track every incident of gun violence from police and media sources, shows that gun deaths and injuries have gone up almost every year since 2014, with significant jumps in 2020. Gun deaths from malicious and accidental causes were 56% higher in 2020 than 2014; gun injuries tracked by the site were 73% higher in 2020 than in 2014.

Mass shootings, meanwhile, have more than doubled in that time period, from 269 to 611. The shooting at the Boise Town Square Mall was the 585th of this year, a pace of almost two a day and easily on track to surpass last year’s peak.

Different sources have different definitions for a “mass shooting.” The Gun Violence Archive counts any shooting where four or more people were injured or killed; in our massacre-friendly nation, many other trackers wouldn’t even count the Boise shooting as a “mass” event.

Not enough deaths to qualify.

Ho hum.

It’s deadening, all this killing. What breaks through it is when one comes close to home. When it happens at Freeman High School, say, and it rips you open. When it happens somewhere where you’ve been, somewhere you live, or where your family lives.

That’s how the Boise Town Center Mall shooting affected a lot of us in this region. So many of us have been there, even if we don’t live in Boise. I go there all the time on visits to see family in Southern Idaho, shopping and eating and buying last-minute Christmas gifts and letting the kids spend Christmas money and buying fancy candy at that one store and sitting in the stupid massage chairs …

I was last there in August, with my son and nephew. I got a haircut while they played VR games. The guy who cut my hair, it turned out, had played football for one of my high school buddies, who coached at Capitol High. We didn’t know each other at all, but we had all these points of shared connection.

Close to home, in every sense.

Now it’s a memorial site.

We’re in the middle of the moment now, and it will go on for a while. We’ll find out more about the suspect and the victims. Vigils will be held. Attention paid. Some may call for real, practical solutions, calls that will simply vanish. Gun worshipers have already diagnosed the problem: “Gun control kills,” said Rep. Priscilla Giddings, idiotically, the day after the shooting.

You might recall a similar notion from another Idaho politician after the last big shooting in the state, when an elementary school student, a young girl, shot three fellow students at school in Rigby. That prompted Rep. Chad Christiansen to cry “shame” on those who had opposed his bill to allow more teachers to carry concealed weapons.

He imagined the solution was an armed teacher, shooting a child to protect other children.

The stubborn survival of such inane “solutions” is a big part of this sickness. Political cowardice with regard to actual solutions is a big part of this sickness. The intransigence and dishonesty of the gun lobby is a big part of this sickness. The sheer number of guns already flooding the country is a big part of this sickness. Gun-grabber conspiracies are a big part of this sickness. The significant number of would-be macho men who picture themselves as Dirty Harry is a big part of this sickness, as is their increasing belief in angry, dangerous lies.

Consider: The very day of the mall shooting, Charlie Kirk brought his critical-race theory road show to Boise. A member of the audience – having fallen for the con job of the stolen election – asked Kirk, “When do we get to use the guns? That’s not a joke, I’m not saying it like that. I’m saying, literally, where’s the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill them?”

Kirk denounced the guy, after cramming his musket full of powder.

Sick to death. The key stage of the sickness is the minimizing, the ignoring, the forgetting. They come and they go, these shootings. Day after day. Two here. One there. Forgotten. Three there. One here. Unremembered. One over there, two over here. A real shame. So heartbreaking.

Ho hum.

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