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A dangerously armed nation at war with itself

There have been more mass shootings than days so far in 2023. And January isn’t even over yet.

A memorial outside the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif.Mario Tama/Getty

On a recent evening, CNN interrupted its coverage of a mass shooting to switch to a press conference about another mass shooting. Two days after a gunman killed 11 and injured others in a dance hall in Monterey Park, Calif., a man in the same state reportedly killed seven of his co-workers in Half Moon Bay.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California is right: “We’ve chosen this.”

“This is our decision to live in these conditions — doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world,” Newsom said. His state has some of the nation’s strictest gun regulations. Yet especially after a conservative-led Supreme Court decision last year that broadened gun rights, even the strongest state laws lack the teeth needed to take a significant bite out of gun violence.


“So we’ve chosen this,” Newsom said. “We’ve accepted this.”

There have been more mass shootings than days in 2023, and January isn’t even over yet. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 40 mass shootings, defined as at least four people killed or wounded in a single incident, not including the shooter or shooters.

After the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay massacres, well-meaning people said the same thing: “This is not normal. We can’t normalize this.” We heard it after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Orlando, and Las Vegas. Next month marks five years since the murders of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. That was one of 336 mass shootings in 2018.

Not since 2019 has there been a year with fewer than 600 mass shootings. And you don’t reach such outrageous statistics without decades of deliberate inaction, political cowardice, and deifying the Second Amendment as more sacred than American lives.

Last May, CNN’s Victor Blackwell, while covering a mass shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 dead, told viewers, “I’ve done 15 of these, at least the ones I could count.”


“Is this the way we’re supposed to live?” an emotional Blackwell asked. “Are we destined to just keep doing this city after city? Have we just resigned [ourselves] that this is what we’re going to be?”

Blackwell predicted he would cover another mass shooting that year. Eight days later, he reported on a massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas — 19 students and two teachers dead.

Covering the most recent high-profile mass shootings — and I distinguish “high-profile” because most mass shootings rarely garner attention outside of the communities where they occur — some reporters have struggled to say something new about another day of carnage in America.

In the two recent California shootings, there’s been an emphasis on the ages and ethnicities of the shooters. Whereas many mass shooters are white men under 40, both reported gunmen in California were Asian men over age 65. One reporter referred to the Half Moon Bay suspect, who is 66, as “an enraged senior citizen.”

But what hasn’t been discussed are stronger gun control measures. About a month after the Uvalde shooting, President Biden signed into law the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which incentivizes states to enact “red flag” laws to remove guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others, strengthens background checks for buyers under 21, and enhances school security.


Touted as the most significant gun reform law in nearly 30 years, the watered-down bill allowed Republicans to neuter an issue they feared would harm them in the midterms. Once many Republicans voted for the bill, Democrats couldn’t make the case that those across the aisle were stalling legislation to curb gun violence.

In a recently released study by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center on 173 “mass casualty attacks” between 2016 and 2020, about 75 percent of these crimes involved firearms. And most of those firearms were legally purchased.

Without question, there are many who tirelessly advocate for stronger gun laws, such as a reinstatement of the 1994 assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. When that law was active, the risk of dying in a mass shooting nationwide was 70 percent lower.

But it often feels as if those fighting hardest for common-sense gun laws are people already burdened with loss. They’re trying to spare those as yet untouched by gun violence from the grief suddenly thrust into their own lives.

When CNN switched from reporting on one mass shooting to another, it wasn’t even the first time back-to-back massacres dominated the news. No, this isn’t normal. Yet we accept these near-daily atrocities while harboring silent fears that the next headline will be about our own communities in a dangerously armed nation at war with itself.

Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her @reneeygraham.