Last week’s shootout on West Main Street that left one man dead and two wounded came as a shock, as it always does in our small town. With the countless warm things that Uvaldeans do for each other, the intrusion of murder feels like an ice-cold hand suddenly gripping our shoulder.
A single or double killing is awful enough but imagine what communities experience in the aftermath of mass murders like those that occurred in El Paso and Midland/Odessa. Above all it must feel like a betrayal. How dare someone kill people we know in a place that once felt so secure, so familiar?
In Midland/Odessa both cities were gripped by prolonged terror because the killer was on the move, first in his car and then in a stolen U.S. postal van. For almost an hour, Seth Ator cruised the streets, picking targets of opportunity who were in fact total strangers.
It’s no longer enough to assault a family member or friend. Better to grip and rip into a crowded store, church, theater, dance club, school or freeway.
We can’t begin to know how such a horrendous crime would feel in Uvalde and yet, to a large degree, we feel helpless to defend against it. You can say put more guns in the hands of citizens, but as a nation with 300 million firearms we are already armed to the teeth. How many people with a concealed handgun must have been in the El Paso Walmart while Patrick Crusius stalked his victims – two, three, 10 – but how many of us with concealed carry would whip out our puny Sig .380 and point it at a man spraying rounds from an AR? The fact is most mass murders last only minutes and few untrained people can react, confront and disable an active shooter, not to mention one speeding from victim to victim in a vehicle.
To combat these horrific crimes we also pay lip service to identifying sick people before they are able to act. The problem with that approach is that one of the largest studies of mass killers, conducted by Columbia professor of psychiatry Dr. Michael Stone and involving 350 people, found that only 20 percent had a psychotic illness. The other 80 percent had no diagnosable mental illness. Instead they suffered from the same everyday issues that weigh on the rest of us: stress, anger, jealousy and unhappiness.
What seems to be different recently is that angry people are resorting more often to violence against strangers. It’s no longer enough to assault a family member or friend. Better to grip and rip into a crowded store, church, theater, dance club, school or freeway. And when that pissed-off individual has in his hands an assault rifle with an extended clip, the results are devastating. He (she) can do more damage in two minutes than a mounted cavalry platoon armed with repeating rifles could have inflicted in half an hour in the days of the Texas republic.
Last week, more than 100 chief executive officers of some of America’s largest corporations signed a joint letter to the U.S. Senate petitioning lawmakers to pass meaningful gun control measures. Specifically they asked for expanded background checks and strengthening so-called red flag laws that would attempt to identify people like Ator and Crusius before they take up arms.
Recent polls indicate that 89 percent of Americans favor expanded background checks and 76 percent like the idea of red-flag laws. It is not surprising then that more than 50 percent of us believe another mass shooting will soon unfold in our nation.
It is one thing to live with the fear that foreign terrorists are plotting to inflict suffering on Americans, but to cower before our own angry, misguided countrymen armed with weapons designed for the battlefield makes no sense at all.