Another week, another mass shooting.
This week, it was 12 young people at a country music bar in Thousand Oaks.
Last week, it was three dead in a Yoga studio in Tallahassee. The week before, it was 11 worshipers in a Pittsburgh synagogue and two black shoppers in a store in Kentucky. Before that, four children shot to death by their suicidal adoptive mother in Tennessee.
The list simply goes on endlessly. It would be all too easy to become numb in the face of the senseless and endless slaughter.
And yet, this week’s horror hits so very close to home. Among the dead in Thousands Oaks was 18-year-old Alaina Housley, the daughter of a well-known Napa family – her father is a successful business owner and her mother is an educator. She was off on her own promising adventure in life – an athlete, a musician and a scholar at Pepperdine University.
On Thursday, we spoke with a visibly emotional Congressman Mike Thompson and he asked the right question: How long can we keep lowering the flags to half-staff before it stops meaning anything?
In the wake of the horrifying school shooting in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, we said that the time for inaction is over.
And yet, here we are again. More shootings, more inaction.
There are perfectly reasonable steps we can take to limit the flood of firearms in our society, starting with the sensible and limited (and clearly constitutional) proposals pushed for years by Thompson and many of his fellow legislators: universal background checks for all gun purchases; improvements to the database of people ineligible to buy a gun, on which the background system is based; bans on extra-lethal accessories, such as the bump stocks used in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre, and extra-capacity magazines, such as the one reportedly used by the gunman in Thousand Oaks; and an end to the de facto ban on use of federal funds to investigate causes of and solutions for gun violence.
No one of these laws would definitely have stopped the recent shootings, but taken together, they could reduce the ease with which homicidal people can give into their lethal urges.
We have said it before, but it bears repeating: Just because we can’t solve everything, doesn’t mean we should do nothing.
Lowered flags, thoughts and prayers, vigils and tears are all very well, but nothing substitutes for action.
But it’s not just a question of guns. It’s also a question of mental health. Like the gunman in The Pathway Home shooting in Yountville earlier this year, the gunman in Thousand Oaks was a former service member who returned from war with psychological damage. We don’t know the role it played in Thursday’s shooting, but it is clear that he had been acting erratically enough to cause concern by law enforcement.
The federal and state governments have failed people like these two young men – and have failed everyone who suffers the effects of trauma and mental illness. We need to fund robust programs to help people who need mental and emotional support.
And yet even better gun control and better mental health care are not enough. We need to repair the very fabric of our society. The gunmen in Pittsburgh and Tallahassee were members of violent extremist subcultures – one a virulent anti-Semite, the other an “incel,” a noxious misogynist belief that holds that women are unjustly denying sex from deserving men.
Like members of violent terrorist groups abroad, these men were socially isolated, nursing deep grievances and subject to radicalization on the darker corners of the internet. We need, as a society and a government, to recognize the threat of this kind of domestic radicalism and take steps to counter the violent propaganda that feeds it, and to support the isolated people that fall into it.
There is simply no reason why Alaina Housley – or any of the thousands of others killed senselessly in the U.S. every year – had to die.