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We need more than thoughts, prayers, and gestures. We need gun reform

People paid their respects at a makeshift memorial outside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Tuesday.
People paid their respects at a makeshift memorial outside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Tuesday.JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images

The flag is flying at half staff again.

Monday, a man killed 10 people at a Colorado grocery store. Today the flag flies in memory of Denny Stong, Neven Stanisic, Rikki Olds, Tralona Bartkowiak, Suzanne Fountain, Teri Leiker, Kevin Mahoney, Lynn Murray, Eric Talley, and Jody Waters.

When you go to the market, you should be able to come home alive, safely. Not since August 2019 has a mass shooting been so deadly. A killer took 23 lives at an El Paso Walmart that Aug. 3. Some 13 hours later, another man opened fire in a Dayton, Ohio, entertainment district, killing nine and wounding dozens more.

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The flag was flown at half staff back then, too. Just like it was a week ago, after a man went on a shooting spree in Atlanta, killing eight people — most of them women of Asian descent: Soon Chung Park, Hyun Jung Grant, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Delaina Ashley Yaun, Xiaojie Tan, Daoyou Feng, and Paul Andre Michels.

They should still be here. We put the American flag at half staff and send prayers and yet, gun control bills don’t make it anywhere.

It’s easy to look at our last year living with the coronavirus and think we had a quiet year in terms of gun violence — if gun violence didn’t directly affect you. But shots were fired. Over and over and over.

There were more mass shootings than days in the month of May 2020. A USA TODAY analysis of Gun Violence Archive statistics shows mass shootings — in which four or more people are shot — surged by nearly 50 percent last year. There were over 600 mass shootings last year. This brand of violence is an American norm.

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Our kids, headed back to school en masse soon, have been trained by active-shooter drills. In a 2018 American Psychological Association survey, 75 percent of those in Gen Z counted mass shootings as a major source of stress. It’s not just children. A lot of us instinctively look for exits in public spaces.

James Bentz, 57, who was in the Colorado King Soopers grocery store when the killer fired his rifle, expected to one day be caught in a mass shooting.

“It seemed like all of us had imagined we’d be in a situation like this at some point in our lives,” he told the Denver Post.

And yet, just last week, a judge blocked Boulder from enforcing its two-year-old ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines in the city. In Georgia, the killer was able to pass an instant background check with no waiting period at all the day he targeted and killed Asian women and others.

A woman faces stricter precautions over a health procedure in that state. A Georgia resident can’t even register to vote that quickly.

Biden has called on Congress, today and last month, to close loopholes in the background check system, to restrict high-capacity magazines, to adapt a federal red flag law, to renew the ban on AR-style rifles.

Earlier this month, the House passed two bills inching toward gun reform legislation. The first would expand background checks to Internet buyers, gun shows, and private transactions. The second would allow authorities 10 business days for federal background checks to be completed before a gun sale can be licensed. A law like that might have prevented Dylann Roof from buying a weapon.

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Both bills had very little Republican support. And now they are in the Senate, where gun reform often stalls.

“This is not and should not be a partisan issue,” Biden said on Tuesday. “This is an American issue. It will save lives, American lives. We have to act.”

Will we? America hasn’t had a ban on assault weapons since 2004. Children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. What kind of people are we that we didn’t ban assault weapons then? In 2017, a gunman shot over 1,000 rounds into a concert crowd in Las Vegas, murdering 60 people and injuring hundreds more. In 2018, a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 and injuring 17. We still don’t have a ban.

We have thoughts and prayers. We have bills that never come to full fruition. We have funerals. We have millions of AR-15s.

People are shot all the time. And we should care. We lose over 100 lives to gun violence in this country every day.

Last weekend an Indiana man shot at a woman with an AR-15 as she tried to escape him. A man arrested a week ago near Vice President Kamala Harris’s home had an AR-15 and five 30-round magazines. And New York State Police are mysteriously missing an AR-15, asking for the public’s help to find it. How about we ban this style of weapon?

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We live in a country where a person can casually carry an AK-47 to a Little Rock, Ark., park and open fire on a car on a Sunday evening.

The right to bear arms shouldn’t include weapons of mass murder. The right to bear arms should require responsibility.

If we want to honor the lives of the victims in Atlanta and Colorado and across the country, we can try to save lives by enacting stricter gun laws.

How many times are we gonna fly the flag at half staff while America places its hand across its heart — and still chooses violence?


Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at jenee.osterheldt@globe.com and on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.