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Opinion >  Column

Shawn Vestal: A year after the Boise mall shooting, a litany of the same

In this file photo, police collect evidence in a parking lot after the Oct. 25, 2021, shooting in Boise.  (Tribune News Service)
In this file photo, police collect evidence in a parking lot after the Oct. 25, 2021, shooting in Boise. (Tribune News Service)

He moved to Idaho for the open-carry laws, his father told police.

Carry your gun anywhere, unpermitted, unrestricted.

And then he open-carried into a busy Boise mall, bought food at Sbarro and began shooting. A security guard was killed first. Then a man on an elevator in Macy’s. Four others were injured before Jacob Bergquist – a tragically troubled young man, a convicted felon with a trail of ignored red flags behind him, and a big proponent of open carry – killed himself.

Police say they still don’t know why he did it. In the year since that shooting at the Boise Towne Square Mall, though, similar shootings occurred at a rate approaching two a day. Over the course of 364 days between the Boise shooting and the Oct. 24 shooting at a St. Louis high school, there were 664 shootings in this country with four or more victims, either killed or injured, according to the Gun Violence Archives.

Try to remember one that wasn’t Uvalde or Buffalo.

Meanwhile, the national murder rate has risen sharply (rising by 30% in 2020, and staying flat in 2021.) The overall rate is a separate phenomena, in many ways, from the mass shooting epidemic, yet both are unavoidably linked to guns and are as rooted to rural red America as urban blue America.

The center-left think tank Third Way analyzed 2020 crime data and found 8 of the top 10 murder rates were in conservative rural states: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee.

“Beyond the top 10, we looked at the 2020 murder rates in the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump and compared it with the murder rates in the 25 states that voted for Joe Biden,” Third Way reported.

“The 8.20 murders per 100,000 residents rate in Trump states was 40% higher than the 5.78 murders per 100,000 residents in Biden states. These Biden-voting states include the ‘crime-is-out-of-control’ cities of Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Portland, Baltimore and Minneapolis, among other large cities.”

When critics claimed that this was only because of the murder rates in blue cities within the red states, Third Way responded by noting that, if blue cities were the sole source of the problem, then blue states would surely have higher murder rates – because they have more blue cities! It also calculated the murder rates in the top 10 red states without their worst blue cities – taking Jackson out of the calculation in Mississippi, for example – and found that the state ranking was largely the same.

In other words, the desire to make gun violence an “over there” problem, a city problem, a Democrat problem – which, it seems, is primarily a desire to make it not a gun problem – doesn’t hold up. Which is not to say that cities aren’t facing increases in crime along with what I suspect is actually the larger problem, in terms of people’s perceptions of safety – visible disorder and the conflation of homelessness with crime.

But beware simplistic explanations, and particularly those that treat the question of how we regulate guns as beside the point.

The Gun Violence Archives compiles information on every mass shooting in the country. Talk about doom-scrolling – here’s a random selection from the year between the Boise shooting and one at the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis:

• Four killed and another seven injured at a high school in Oxford, Michigan.

• Four dead, including a police officer, at a home in Rex, Georgia.

• Three dead and one injured at a 7-Eleven in Pittsburgh.

• Two dead at a Safeway in Bend, Oregon.

• Three dead and seven injured at a block party in Gary, Indiana.

• Two dead and three injured at a Houston flea market.

• One killed and four injured at a graduation ceremony in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

• Two killed and two injured, including a baby, at a gas station in Memphis.

• One killed and 13 injured in Baytown, Texas, at a celebration of life for a man who had himself been shot and killed.

• Five killed at a church in Sacramento, California.

People shot in homes. People shot on the streets. Drive-by shootings. Gang violence. Domestic disputes gone wrong. People shot in church, or at the grocery store, or at a gas station, or at school. In the city and in the country.

Six hundred sixty-four times.

This year alone, 266 children age 11 or younger were killed in mass shootings, and 589 were injured. One thousand, one-hundred and eight teenagers were killed, with 3,088 injured.

Which doesn’t count the recent St. Louis shooting, in which a teenager (once again) roamed the halls of a high school with an AR-15 (once again) and hundreds of rounds of ammunition (once again) that he’d bought via the private-seller loophole (once again, because he was blocked by a background check at a licensed dealer) while teachers and students locked down (once again) and huddled, terrified, in corners (once again.)

When school officials learned a gunman was in the school, they made an announcement over the intercom – using code that students and staff had been taught for a school shooter: “Miles Davis is in the building.”

Students jumped out of windows. Teachers locked doors. The gunman shot his way in, killing a 15-year-old and a teacher, and injuring seven, before he was shot by the police.

Remember? This was last week.

The president of the school board was asked whether it would have made a difference if someone on the school staff been armed.

“I don’t know how much firepower it would take to stop that person. You saw the police response, it was massive. It was overwhelming,” he said. “I know what would have been different is if this high-powered rifle was not available to this individual. That would have made the difference.”

It was the 67th school shooting of the year. And the year’s not over.

Miles Davis is not in the building. He’s in the whole country.

He’s everywhere.

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