America’s latest mass shooting turned a cherished July Fourth parade from a scene of patriotic joy into one of fear and death.
The rapid bursts of a high-powered rifle brought the chilling reality that no one can be sure they are safe, anywhere, to one of the nation’s most unifying gatherings.
In that instant, Highland Park joined Uvalde, Columbine, Newtown and Parkland and a long list of cities and towns known across the country for the massacre of innocents in a gun violence contagion that makes the United States an outlier in developed societies.
Detritus strewn at the scene, a lone shoe, discarded backpacks, upturned camping chairs and empty strollers did not just tell the story of the hurried panic of those who fled for their lives. It reflected yet another scene of normality shattered by a mass shooting. In this case, six people who simply went out to celebrate America on its birthday are dead. More than two dozen – aged 8 to 85, according to doctors – are injured.
Only Monday’s venue – on a day dedicated to national celebration – was variable. Similar horror unfolded in May in an elementary school in Texas and a Buffalo, New York, supermarket. Mass shootings targeted graduation parties last month in Texas and South Carolina. In Philadelphia, shooters sprayed a nightlife crowd. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was carnage in a medical center. In Brooklyn, the shooter was on the subway.
Television pictures Monday of police vehicles in Highland Park rushing to help beneath a billowing American flag added an ironic, new dimension to this latest horror. It took place as Americans gathered to celebrate the 246th anniversary of the freedoms inherent in American independence. Yet what unfolded encapsulated the quintessentially American cycle of death by firearms. When a gunman killed three people in a mall shooting in Copenhagen, Denmark, over the weekend, it was shocking because it was unusual. But while Monday’s shooting outside Chicago was unexpected, another mass shooting in the US was hardly a surprise.
“It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “A day dedicated to freedom has put into stark relief the one freedom we, as a nation, refuse to uphold: The freedom of our fellow citizens to live without the daily fear of gun violence.”
Shocked residents relate a day of terror
Still, residents of the affluent, largely White suburb with a thriving Jewish community expressed shock that such horror visited their town.
Some related scenes of wounded victims on the sidewalk, of families fleeing with their kids in terror and of one man who put his children inside a dumpster for safety.
This was “just inconceivable in a community like Highland Park,” Jeff Leon, an eye witness who at first thought the pops of the rifle were July Fourth fireworks, told CNN.
Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider, who represents Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, expressed similar disbelief. “No one thinks that this could happen in our community, but that is true across the country,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. And Dr. Brigham Temple, medical director of emergency preparedness for NorthShore University HealthSystem, told reporters: “It is a little surreal to have to take care of an event such as this.”
A common sentiment of people caught up in such mass shootings is disbelief that their community, which they had considered safe, has been hit. But in a nation awash in guns, nowhere is immune. Even at July Fourth celebrations across the country that were perfectly safe, how many of the attendees didn’t have a flash of concern about their security? Having to think about the possibility of mass shooting – at a school or a movie theater or a place of worship – has now become part of life since it’s happened so often. It’s another weight of anxiety and stress on a national psyche strained by the Covid-19 pandemic, soaring inflation and vicious political divides that contributed to a pessimistic mood this July Fourth.
Gun violence is hardly new in American society. But the proliferation of deadly weapons is now forcing people everywhere in the United States to face worries long endured by those familiar with the horrific toll of firearms in cities.
It’s gotten nowhere near as much coverage. But the high-profile shootings in Uvalde and Highland Park, for instance, are taking place against a backdrop of incessant killings elsewhere.
There have been at least the 311 mass shooting in the United States so far this year, including 14 in just the first four days of this month, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
And it’s only July.
The politics of gun control
The suspect, Robert E. Crimo III, has been taken into custody near Lake Forest, Illinois, authorities said during a brief news conference Monday night after an hours-long manhunt.
Sgt. Chris Covelli, of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said earlier in the day that the firearm used in shooting was a “high powered rifle” but declined to give further details. If that is borne out, it would just be the latest occasion when a weapon with the capacity to quickly fire multiple rounds with deadly effect has been used in a mass shooting.
President Joe Biden and firearms safety advocates have called for a reinstatement of a nationwide assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004. There is no chance, however, that such a measure could get through Republican opposition in the US Senate because of filibuster rules that require a 60-vote majority for major legislation. It’s unlikely Democrats with their wafer-thin majority could pass it on their own, and they lack the votes needed to change the filibuster rules.
The Highland Park mass shooting is the first to come to national attention since the passage of the first major gun safety legislation in Congress in a generation. It is far too early to know whether that measure – which poured new money into mental health resources and potentially slowed the pace at which people under 21 can get guns – could have prevented this tragedy or whether the incident will expose its limited scope. Biden and families of the victims of recent gun massacres had pleaded with Congress to do far more, but Republican opposition makes it all but impossible to pass meaningful overhauls of firearm laws, including expanded background checks.
The July Fourth holiday meant that there was little immediate political reaction to Monday’s mass killing from Republicans, even as Democrats such as Vice President Kamala Harris and Pritzker demanded more gun restrictions.
The rituals of America’s incessant mass shootings will likely now see Republicans try to point to other factors besides the availability of guns. It’s true that most gun owners in America are law-abiding. But logic suggests that America’s massive proliferation of guns compared with other nations and the high incidence of mass killings are linked. And it’s clear that more people having guns – what the National Rifle Association would call “good guys with guns” – isn’t stopping all of these killings.
Second Amendment activists insist that the right to own high-powered weapons is within every American’s rights to bear arms. And the conservative US Supreme Court majority is setting about loosening existing gun restrictions. All of which suggests that Monday’s shooting will result in no action that makes America safer. The heavy lift in passing even the limited gun safety legislation last month suggests that a gridlocked political system has already done as much as it can bear.
Yet each recent mass shooting poses the same questions, which are especially acute on a day that America celebrates its freedoms.
Why do the rights of those who insist they have the constitutional blessing to own such deadly weapons outweigh the right of others to life – especially since a majority of Americans support more comprehensive gun control? And why, for instance, should moms, dads, kids or grandparents have to so often run for their lives?
“It can happen any place,” Miles Zaremski, who witnessed the shooting in Highland Park, told CNN on Monday afternoon. “I’ve been around many years on this planet and what I observed shook me to the core.”
“If it can happen on July 4, in a peaceful law-abiding community that we have in Highland Park … it can happen any place.”