El Paso attack becomes America's 250th mass shooting this year

Gun violence experts say American mass shootings have risen in recent decades, and Donald Trump is exacerbating the problem

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 05 August 2019 07:51 BST
Texas shooting: 20 dead and more than two dozen injured in El Paso

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Two gun attacks in the space of 24 hours have taken the number of mass shootings in America to 250 this year.

Shortly after an armoured gunman opened fire near a bar in downtown Dayton, Ohio, adding at least nine more names to the list of dead, the mayor of that city wondered why.

In a press conference on Sunday morning, Nan Whaley questioned why her city had to be the latest face of mass murder in a country that has seen an epidemic of gun violence that experts say has only gotten worse in recent decades. She was the second mayor to confront the question in 13 hours, after a gunman in El Paso, Texas, had opened fire at a shopping centre and killed at least 20 people Saturday. But she was far from the second mayor to confront the question this year.

“Why does Dayton have to be the 250th mass shooting in America?” Ms Whaley asked, apparently referencing a tally compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, which actually pegs her city's tragedy as the 251st mass shooting. “El Paso was 249 , Dayton is 250 this year.”

In interviews, experts on gun violence told The Independent that the violence over the weekend in Ohio and Texas underscores the rate of these tragedies in a country that clings to the Second Amendment as one of the pre-eminent definitions of freedom.

And, whether Dayton qualifies as the 250th mass shooting of the year — different definitions are employed by various groups — they said that the shootings have only got worse in recent decades, and that the violence has been exacerbated in part by the rhetoric coming from Donald Trump.

“At the end of the day the president of the United States, whoever it is, one of his primary roles is to keep this country safe,” said David Chipman, a former Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent and senior policy advisor for the advocacy group Giffords. “The guy’s golfing. People are on vacation. This is a clear and present danger.”

Mr Chipman likened the continual violence he sees with firearms in the United States to other major tragedies that spurred massive changes, and noted that tragedies like the 9/11 terror attacks — which brought about a massive restructuring in American government — show that change can happen.

But, one major difference he sees is lack of willingness for leaders on the right to address the issues, even if just with their voices.

So, he said, it’s less than surprising that, after years of Mr Trump describing immigrants and people of colour as criminals, that a gunman who allegedly wrote an anti-immigrant manifesto would walk into a Walmart near the US-Mexico border in El Paso, and begin shooting people.

“It’s a failure of leadership and courage. We are under attack,” he said. “And that attack, unfortunately, is coming from within.”

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Josh Sugarmann, the director of the Violence Policy Centre, said that the US has seen an increase in the number of shootings since the 1980s, and agreed that the president’s rhetoric has pulled the curtain back on dangerous currents of anger in the country.

But, he also noted that the majority of mass shootings that receive national attention are all carried out using similar firearms.

In El Paso, in Dayton, in Parkland, Florida last year, and in Las Vegas before that — all of the shootings appear to have been carried out with assault-style weapons, which are semi-automatic versions of the kinds of weapons soldiers take into the battlefield.

“The common bloody thread that runs through them is a semi-automatic firearm able to accept a high-capacity magazine, and more often than not that firearm is a military-bred assault weapon,” Mr Sugarmann said.

He continued: “Today’s gun industry is a militarized industry. They’re taking weapons designed for the military — full auto rifles — and selling versions of them.”

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