Community, Features, Impact

Mass shootings remain on the minds of Americans as society reopens

Eight dead in Atlanta. Six days later, 10 were shot dead in Boulder, Colorado.

protestor holding don't shoot yellow tape
As society begins to reopen, mass shootings remain a concern for many Americans. SOPHIE PARK/ DFP FILE

As society begins to slowly reopen, many wonder if the number of mass shootings will once again rise.

One Boston University professor said they will.

“These two in close proximity, and particularly outrageous, are among many multiple shootings almost every day,” said David Rosenbloom, a professor of public health. “Most of it just doesn’t get reported beyond a local story or two.”

Nine days after the Colorado killings, another mass shooting left four dead in a real estate office in California Wednesday.

Mass shootings have no standard definition, but they are commonly regarded as an event in which four or more people are either shot or killed. More than 20 mass shootings have taken place in the last two weeks.

Rosenbloom has served as a board member of Stop Handgun Violence — a nonprofit working to use public awareness, policy advocacy, education and law enforcement strategies to prevent firearm violence — for more than 20 years.

He said the organization has worked to pass the nation’s strongest gun laws in Massachusetts, which have led to the lowest gun death rates across the country. In 2019, Massachusetts had a 3.4 death rate by firearm per 100,000 people — Mississippi’s was 24.2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.

In Massachusetts, assault weapons and high-volume ammunition are illegal, and local police chiefs are involved in background checks. The state also instituted a red flag law, which allows family members, mental health professionals or the police to prevent someone from buying or storing a gun if they perceive them as high risk for harming themselves or others.

Although it may seem as if there has been a surge in mass shootings due to recent news, Rosenbloom said shootings involving more than one victim have been happening almost weekly for some time.

“The pandemic has sort of exacerbated stress, and it has exacerbated the political environment in which violence has been approved by the former president,” he said. “Violent rhetoric is now almost normalized.”

In addition to the mental health and societal factors that often lead to mass shootings, Rosenbloom said there is one major contributor: access to guns, which makes the act easier.

Jim Wallace, the executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League in Massachusetts, said the organization and himself do not support “licensing a civil right.” He said state legislation regarding guns is not standardized across the country, and despite it being a state license, local authorities oversee gun licensing, which he said is “ridiculous.”

“Can you imagine a driver’s license working that way, where every city and town had their own rules on how they were going to deal with people who sought a driver’s license?” he said. “And if the individual chief just didn’t happen to like driving cars because it’s dangerous, he could limit you in any fashion that he saw fit, or she saw fit.”

GOAL is a full-time state-level organization that aims to protect civil rights related to the Second Amendment. It also holds firearm safety training courses, provides resources about Massachusetts gun laws and advocates at the State House and with other agencies in the Commonwealth.

Wallace said the licensing system in the state is “broken” and “virtually impossible” to function properly. He also said the government has not adequately addressed the major mental health issues that are contributing to mass shootings.

“We continue to decry the government because they simply do not want to deal with severe mental health issues, which is harming all of us,” he said. “I can’t think of a case where the person who did the shooting wasn’t suffering from severe mental health issues.”

Wallace said the red flag law in Massachusetts fails to assist people with mental illnesses because the state does not recognize the bill as a mental health bill. Wallace said, according to a 2018 report by GOAL, Massachusetts gun control laws are failing based on three categories: firearm safety, firearms used for criminal activities and suicides by firearms.

“The government, especially Massachusetts, is very disingenuous when they talk about safety,” he said. “They just don’t back it up with any real action other than just passing laws, then they don’t do anything about it.”

Wallace said he has a “pro choice” approach to owning firearms, rather than advocating for everyone to have one. While everyone has their civil liberties, they shouldn’t be forced to act on them, he said.

“People have a right to access all their civil rights, as long as they’re a lawful person and not dangerous to the public,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable, even after training, then don’t. Nobody’s forcing you. Matter of fact, we protect your right to choose not to.”

For many students, however, guns are something they have become familiar with for reasons outside of their own agency.

While some BU students say the threat of mass shootings on campus is at times an afterthought, that certainly wasn’t the case in high school — at least 180 K-12 schools experienced a shooting from 2009-2018, according to a report by CNN.

“In high school I think it was more of a fear of mine, just because there was an incident in my high school where there was a student who threatened to bring a gun to school, and he had a list of students that he wished to harm,” said Claudia Couto, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Gun threats on college campuses do happen, however. BU associate professor of communication Tammy Vigil was in the Kenmore Classroom Building when someone had a gun in Kenmore Square, and the university went into a shelter in place, she said.

“We were just getting ready to start a new class,” she said. “It was just mostly about making sure that the students could be safe, feel safe and can get in or out of the space as they needed to in case something did actually happen.”

Hannah Halford, a junior in the College of Communication, said her fear of a potential mass shooting in college is often “subconscious,” but the news cycle plays a role in her awareness.

“Every time I walk into a classroom, I’m not thinking about a mass shooting, but I’d say when it’s in the news I’m more aware of it,” she said. “I think that that’s a fault in my awareness of mass shootings and that I should be more conscious and afraid of that occurring.”

Couto said the lingering worry of a mass shooting is a result of government inaction.

“As a college student, it’s kind of always on your mind a little bit,” she said. “Just because … of the inaction of the government of doing any kind of substantial thing to assure that that type of thing doesn’t continue to occur.”

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