THERE is nothing as repulsively but thoroughly American as a deadly mass shooting with a high-powered rifle at a joyous parade celebrating the nation’s independence.
The Fourth of July shooter in the suburban Illinois city of Highland Park, north of Chicago, picked off what at last count were more than 50 people, killing at least seven. He reportedly did it with a lawfully purchased AR-15-style weapon, the kind of gun a federal judge in California a year ago described approvingly as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” in much the same way as a Swiss army knife is good “for both home and battle.” The judge’s ruling was, thankfully, overturned by an appeals court.
It is a fact that the U.S. is armed for battle and that the homeland is threatened, but the assailant is neither an abusive king nor a foreign enemy. Americans have taken up weapons of war against their neighbors. We have become our most deadly enemies, turning our own Constitution — or rather, particular interpretations of it — into a weapon to undermine the very things it was meant to protect, including (in the words of the Second Amendment) the security of a free state.
The result is that we will never again hear the bang of Fourth of July fireworks without a jolt of fear that the sound might actually be gunshots fired from a rooftop. Weapons of war have made us similarly insecure and unfree at grocery stores, as in Buffalo, N.Y., less than six weeks ago, or elementary schools as in Uvalde, Texas, even more recently, or at festivals, nightclubs, churches, synagogues, college campuses and everywhere else.
This string of mass shootings is America’s parade of horribles — not merely the multiple hate killings that target people for their race, religion or sex, or the more mystifying killings committed by people with no obvious motive other than rage, but what comes after. Thoughts and prayers, reprimands and tears, and utter failure to limit access to weapons of war.
This can hardly be what the framers had in mind when they sought to protect the right of the people to form well-regulated militias for the common defense.
Sadly, it is not merely semiautomatic weapons that we have turned on each other, or planned mass shootings that are killing us. Independence Day was observed from coast to coast with shootings, many committed with handguns of the sort that the Supreme Court recently ruled cannot be broadly restricted outside the home. There were Fourth of July shootings at or near holiday celebrations in Los Angeles; Sacramento; Galt, Calif.; New York; Kansas City, Mo.; Richmond, Va.; Haltom City, Texas; Kenosha, Wis.; Indianapolis; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; and other towns and cities as well.
More than foreign rockets’ red glare or bombs bursting in air, it is American guns, and the national paralysis to defend against them, that threaten the nation.