In an ideal version of our deeply shitty country, every mass shooting would be a referendum on guns. If that were the case, the murder spree conducted this past weekend by a man in Kalamazoo, Mich. would perhaps be the ultimate litmus test for what this country can stomach when it comes to guns.
Others might point elsewhere. A popular gun control tweet I see frequently is this one, from British political commentator Dan Hodges:
In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.— Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) June 19, 2015
There is an undeniable element of truth to it. If the ritual slaughter of kindergartners won’t permanently shift this country’s attitude towards guns, then what could? But Sandy Hook was just a particularly horrifying spin on one of the most common sub-genres of American mass murder: the school shooting. The ages of the Sandy Hook victims made it an impossibly sad story, but the victims at Columbine were children, too, and the dozens killed at Virginia Tech weren’t much older. The truth is that America accepted the possibility of so many bright futures coming to their permanent ends in the classroom when Adam Lanza himself was still in elementary school.
Most high-profile mass shootings in America have a depressingly familiar narrative. They happen in schools or malls or offices or movie theaters, and are conducted by people who seem mentally disturbed. But Jason Dalton, who drove around Kalamazoo on Saturday night murdering folks at random, breaks the mold.
Dalton had a wife and two children. He had no criminal record. There was nothing, in any state, that would have prevented him from having a gun. A neighbor of Dalton’s told the New York Times that he had “periodically shot his gun out the back door,” which the Times describes as “troubling,” but apparently not enough for anyone to have called the police, who probably wouldn’t have done anything anyway. Whoever manufactured Dalton’s gun needn’t care either because they have no legal liability for mass shootings.
His victims were not gathered in a single place where maybe, in the backs of their minds, they should have been scouting escape routes in the event that some crazy guy with a big rifle stormed through the door. They did not know Dalton from the office kitchen or from the school cafeteria. They were just in parking lots, basically, at an apartment building and a car dealership and a Cracker Barrel. There was nothing, even in the context of our horribly fucked-up country, that could have signaled to his victims that they were sitting or standing in the spots where they would soon die.
A man who would never be stopped from legally purchasing a gun taking his Saturday to irregularly murder people he doesn’t know is America’s most uniquely unstoppable and unpreventable crime. It is baked into our society, and ours alone.
In a press conference after the shooting, Kalamazoo County Prosecutor Jeff Getting was frank in expressing his despair over the shootings: “How do you go and tell the families of these victims that they weren’t targeted for any reason other than they were there to be a target?”
The answer to that question says everything about America’s relationship with guns.