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The only way to break the pattern of mass shootings

Community members stood by the 12 crosses at the memorial located by Building 11 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in Virginia Beach, Va., on Sunday. The crosses honored the 12 victims of the mass shooting that took place at the Municipal Center on May 31.Sarah Holm/The Virginian-Pilot via AP/The Virginian-Pilot via AP

Another dozen dead in a mass shooting — this time in Virginia Beach — and by now everyone knows the drill. Begin with praising the bravery of the first responders, who should never have to respond to such horrific crimes in the first place. Mourn the victims, the latest lives cut short by America’s raging gun violence epidemic. Cue the chorus of politicians issuing their thoughts, prayers, and excuses.

Then, of course, come the newspaper editorials calling for stricter gun controls.

Still, however rote gun tragedies may seem now, America cannot go numb. This massacre is every bit the outrage as the last. Eleven city employees and a contractor were killed on Friday afternoon by a gunman who entered a municipal building with two handguns, one of which was reportedly equipped with a noise suppressor that may have made it harder for victims to identify the gunshots. The killing ended only when police arrived and fatally wounded the killer in a shootout.

LaQuita Brown; Ryan Keith Cox; Tara Welch Gallagher; Mary Louise Gayle; Alexander Mikhail Gusev; Joshua O. Hardy; Michelle Langer; Richard H. Nettleton; Katherine A. Nixon; Christopher Kelly Rapp; Herbert Snelling; and Robert Williams joined the more than 200 Americans killed in mass shootings this year.


But the script doesn’t end here, and the next acts are sadly predictable. As the details emerge after a mass shooting, gun activists typically use the particularities to poke holes in proposed gun restrictions. If the weapons weren’t assault weapons, why then, that’ll be cited as evidence of the uselessness of an assault weapons ban. If the killer obtained the weapons illegally, that’ll be said to prove that gun restrictions don’t work, since criminals just buy on the black market. And if he bought the gun legally, as the Virginia gunman apparently did, you can count on hearing the argument that the shooting proves existing gun controls don’t work.


Yes, each mass shooting is different. Killers don’t all exploit the same loopholes. But the common denominator is always the same: firearms. If we want fewer mass shootings, we need fewer guns, in the hands of fewer people.

There was some hope, earlier this year, that the narrative might be changing. Shortly after taking power in the House of Representatives, Democrats passed a gun-control bill. The legislation, which would mandate background checks before all gun sales and transfers, even attracted a handful of Republican votes, an encouraging sign.

Then the legislation got to the Senate — and disappeared.

Individual states can make a difference: Massachusetts is considering legislation that would require a detailed analysis of guns used in crimes, for instance. More states are considering red-flag laws similar to ours, which allow police to take guns temporarily from dangerous individuals. States could also ban suppressors, as a handful have done already.

But guns cross state lines easily, and there’s no substitute for federal action. The time to pressure your congressperson or senator — or, if need be, find a candidate to replace them — is now. The National Rifle Association is short on cash and reeling from scandal. Meanwhile, the lives of enough Americans have been touched by mass shootings that their voices have become powerful. And relatives of the victims of “ordinary” gun violence — murders in cities, suicides in rural America — are organizing too.


Many Americans looked on in admiration when New Zealand reacted to a mass shooting by promptly enacting new gun restrictions. It seems impossible to imagine such a response here. But the only way to break the pattern in the United States is to keep pushing: At the least, the Senate should take up and vote on the House legislation.

The victims in Virginia Beach were black and white, old and young. Mass killings happen at schools, workplaces, churches. And this awful story will keep repeating itself — until Americans demand a different ending.