Americans are fighting despair over gun deaths (2023)

January 29, 2023 11:19 PM


Zeneta Everhart stands in front of a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, New York on January 27, 2023. Ten people were killed in the store in May 2022 after a gunman walked in and attacked Black people. Everhart's son, then 19, survived after being shot in the neck. “You know, we don't want to hear about it. We don't want to hear about our children dying from gun violence and we don't want to hear about our seniors who died in the California studio attack. "How horrible. Heart touching. (AP Photo/Robert Busted)

Felicia Martinez, mother of Xavier Lopez, who was killed by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, fights back tears after speaking at a press conference at the Texas Capitol with Texas State Senator, Roland Gutierrez, in Austin on January 1. November 24, 2023. Gutierrez says he is introducing legislation following the rise in gun violence in Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., third from left, and Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., center, stands during a moment of silence for those killed in the Monterey Park mass shooting before the 124th annual Dragon Parade Dorado celebrating Lunar New Year in Los Angeles on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023. (Keith Birmingham/Orange County Record via AP)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – It increasingly looks as if the United States is at war with itself.

In New Orleans, just days into the new year, a 14-year-old girl was shot to death, along with her father and uncle. A few days later, in a Virginia classroom, a 6-year-old boy pulled out a gun and shot his first grade teacher. That news was overshadowed by a mass shooting at a California dance studio last weekend that left 11 people dead. A day later and a few hundred kilometers away, a farmer opened fire in a coastal town, killing seven co-workers. Three more were killed and four wounded in a shooting at a short-term rental home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood early Saturday morning.

Keeping track of all the shootings became overwhelming, with the locations, circumstances, and names of the victims coming together in a seemingly endless trail of bloodshed and pain.

And many Americans are deeply pessimistic that anything will change anytime soon. When President Joe Biden signed a bill last year to combat gun violence, the first such measure passed by Congress in a generation, a substantial majority endorsed it. But 78% said they believed they would do little or nothing, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

The sheer number of killings and the glacial pace of the political response "create a sense of helplessness and despair," said Pedro Noguera, dean of the college of education at the University of Southern California and a sociologist who has studied gun violence for more than one year old . two decades.

“I don't think anyone is comfortable with where we are, not even gun enthusiasts,” he said.

But if all of this makes you think that America has become desensitized to gun violence, Zeneta Everhart would disagree. Fiercely.

Everhart's then-19-year-old son Zaire was working part-time at a Buffalo supermarket last May when a gunman stormed the store looking for blacks to kill. Ten died in the attack. Zaire was shot in the neck but survived.

“I don't think the country is becoming desensitized to this, but I think the country is frustrated,” he said. "I think people are tired."

“You know, we don't want to hear about it. We don't want to hear about our children dying from gun violence and we don't want to hear about our seniors who died in the California studio attack. "How horrible. Heart touching.

But that makes Everhart and others even more determined to find ways to stop the violence.

A month after the grocery store shooting, she and family members of other victims went to Washington, D.C., to testify before a House committee on the need for gun safety legislation. Two weeks later, Biden signed the gun violence bill into law.

That success and her son's continued recovery keep her energized.

But in a country where attitudes about guns and violence are often contradictory, charting a course of action makes calculation difficult.

Overall, 71% of Americans say gun laws should be tightened, according to a 2022 poll conducted by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Center. But in the same poll, 52% said it's also very important to protect Americans' right to own guns for their personal safety.

Last year's gun violence law was designed to increasingly toughen the requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms to more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take guns away from people deemed dangerous. Most of its $13 billion cost would go toward bolstering mental health programs and schools.

This year, however, the number of shooting deaths is already deeply discouraging.

The first mass shooting in the country last year took place on January 23. By the same time this year, the country had already suffered six mass shootings, leaving 39 dead, according to a database compiled by the Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. It tracks all US attacks that have claimed at least four lives, not including the shooter, since 2006.

“Unfortunately, I think we have become immune,” said Mark Gius, a Quinnipiac College professor who studies gun violence and public policy. “It became a part of life.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed when a gunman broke into a Parkland, Florida, high school in 2018, knows all too well how overwhelming the violence can be.

The immediate instinct of these shootings, he said, is to think "here we go again." But it doesn't end there.

“It's not that Americans don't care. It's just that we've let it go too far,” he said. “America is paying attention. People are more engaged with this issue than ever."

For years, he has been lobbying Congress and Florida for legislation known as "Jaime's Law" that would require people who buy ammunition to pass the same background checks required to buy a gun. The accounts have been stopped repeatedly, but he is not giving up.

While mass murders like the one in Parkland get a lot of attention, more than half of the approximately 45,000 annual firearm deaths in the United States are caused by suicide.

Of the murders with firearms, the vast majority leave only one or two people dead. Many of these deaths go unnoticed except by authorities and those left behind.

“This is sad,” USC's Noguera said. "You almost have to be directly impacted to understand how dangerous the situation is right now."

This has created a situation where even people who hate guns can wonder if they should buy one.

"It's understandable," he said. "People think: if the state can't protect us, we must protect ourselves."

Eight months after the Buffalo supermarket attack, doctors have still not been able to remove all the bullet fragments lodged in the body of Everhart's son, some of them dangerously close to vital organs. But his survival motivates her to keep pressing the government for change, and she urges others not to give up the fight when they hear of another shooting.

"Don't be callous about it," he said. "That must hurt. You must feel something."


Associated Press video journalist Robert Bumsted contributed to this story. Sullivan reported from Minneapolis.

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