Prejudice and guns a bad mix

Hate-driven violence is on the rise in the United States. There’s no denying it, and there’s no easily identifiable remedy for it. 

Last Saturday a 19-year-old nursing student reportedly entered a synagogue in Poway, Calif., near San Diego during Passover services and shot four people, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi, a child and another man. 

Had his gun not jammed, the casualties could have been far worse.

The accused shooter had posted a “manifesto” online which verbally attacked Jews and also celebrated the killing of 50 Muslims in mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. 

The day before, on Friday, the FBI in Los Angeles arrested a former Army veteran of Afghanistan combat who authorities said was planning to bomb a local event and freeways in the city. The suspect had recently converted to Islam and, according to the FBI, had considered attacks on Jews, churches and police in retaliation for attacks against Muslims, including the Christchurch attack.

Last October, a 46-year-old was charged with murder after a Pittsburgh synagogue shooting that killed 11 Jews and injured seven. The accused had posted antisemitic rants on a website. Upon his arrest at the synagogue, he allegedly told officers that he wanted all Jews to die, and that Jews were committing genocide against “his people.”

A few days earlier, a 51-year-old white man was arrested and charged with shooting two black people at a Kroger grocery store in a Louisville, Ky., suburb, apparently at random. The accused had tried to enter a predominantly black church nearby a few minutes earlier but was unable to do so because the doors were locked. Several people were in the church at the time.

In June 2015, a 21-year-old white supremacist shot nine black worshipers to death at an historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C. He confessed that his motivation for the murders was in the hope of starting a race war.

It’s a sad, incredible fact that you can pick almost any month of the past decade or so and expect to discover a hate killing in that month somewhere in the United States.

Researchers and anti-hate groups report that hate-driven violence rose startlingly after the election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 and continued through his re-election in 2012, the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016, and the midterm elections of 2018.

Shooting deaths are far and away more common in the United States than in any other Western nation. The prevalence of guns is likewise much higher here than in any comparable country. 

There is undeniably a connection between those two facts, but how to do anything about it has proved almost impossible.

We can tinker around the edges: maybe restrict gun ownership and possession by domestic abusers, persons on no-fly lists and other specific individuals labeled as dangerous. Maybe someone whom others warn is temporarily bent on violence could be relieved of his or her weapons until the danger subsides. Maybe sales at gun shows should be more restrictive than they are now. Maybe ammunition magazines could be restricted as to their volume. 

Other suggestions are worth looking at as well. But opposition to gun control of any kind is an uphill struggle. The momentum right now seems to flow in the other direction. And there are enough groups and individuals on the far-right fringe to threaten even more violence if such attempts are made.

Easy access to guns and the growth of tribal hatred create a toxic mix that lends irony to the concept of American exceptionalism. 

We are truly exceptional among all advanced nations in the incidence of gun violence here, including its deadly affinity with racial, religious and lifestyle prejudices.

The realities of contemporary American politics sadly appear capable of blocking any meaningful attempts to reduce hate-filled murders. 

Until enough Americans demand change, America will remain on its present downward path of domestic terror.

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