Regular Mass Murder

Vaccinations are up. The pandemic is winding down. At least that’s what most Republicans believe. The daily and weekly and monthly data show a new slight rise in cases reported, and in hospitalizations, here and there. Deaths will follow in a week or two. New Jersey may have to shut down again. Michigan’s numbers are spiking up, but there are angry people in that state – they’ll lynch their evil governor before any of them will ever wear a mask ever again – and none them will take any of those vaccines ever. Freedom! And so it goes. The pandemic may end one day. But it won’t be pretty. And it may not end.

It doesn’t matter. America is back to normal. Regular mass murder is back:

A 21-year-old Colorado man was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder Tuesday after authorities said he walked into a King Soopers grocery store on a quiet Monday afternoon and gunned down 10 people, including police officer Eric Talley, a father of seven who responded to the rampage.

In a news conference Tuesday, authorities identified the suspect as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa of Arvada, Colo., who was shot in the leg during the attack and later filmed being taken into custody. He was charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree and one count of attempted first-degree murder.

The mass shooting – the second in the country in less than a week – has reignited the debate on gun violence, even as investigators struggle to identify a motive for this latest, horrific event.

Forget that virus. It’s like old times, with the same people saying the same words, words that will make no difference:

Speaking at the White House at midday, President Biden lamented the mass shooting, saying he was devastated that “another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma.” Biden called on the Senate to pass two background-check bills already approved by the House and for Congress to reenact an assault-weapons ban…

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Democrats would “keep fighting” to end gun violence, while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) called the talk about gun control “ridiculous theater.”

And nothing will change. The Washington Post team of Sean Sullivan and Paul Kane and Seung Min Kim cover the politics of this:

President Biden on Tuesday called for tightening of the nation’s gun laws, plunging him into an impassioned debate that he largely tiptoed around until it erupted anew after two mass shootings.

But Biden and Democratic leaders tempered their push for swift action with some doubt about their ability to enact new restrictions, even with party control of the White House and Congress, underlining the political volatility that has long surrounded efforts to overhaul gun laws.

In hastily arranged remarks less than 24 hours after a shooting rampage in Boulder, Colo., that left 10 people dead, Biden proposed a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as an expansion of background checks during gun sales. Gun-control advocates have tried to push through all these initiatives over the past decade, but strong cultural and political divisions have stymied their efforts.

Why should anything be different this time? The Republicans have fifty votes in the Senate. They only need forty to block and end any legislation of any kind. Democrats need sixty votes to force a vote on any legislation of any kind, to end the current silent passive-aggressive form of the filibuster. The Democrats have fifty votes in the Senate. The math is clear. Biden needs a miracle:

Any gun legislation is expected to face major hurdles in the Senate, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Asked during a trip to Ohio later Tuesday whether he had the political capital to shepherd a gun measure, Biden crossed his fingers and replied, “I hope so. I don’t know. I haven’t done any counting yet.”

Still, his comments were the most detailed of his presidency on gun control, an issue that has been eclipsed by the coronavirus pandemic and other crises. Biden engaged in a flurry of executive actions after he was sworn in, but none of them touched on firearms.

And he did not fulfill a campaign promise to send a bill to Congress on his first day in office repealing liability protections for gun manufacturers and closing background-check loopholes.

But this week’s mass shooting may have forced his hand, and his people have been working on some of this:

For weeks, the White House has been privately exploring various executive orders related to firearms, such as strengthening background checks and community anti-violence funding, according to people familiar with the conversations.

White House officials confirmed on Tuesday that they are considering potential executive actions, but they declined to provide a timeline.

Also under discussion is regulating “ghost guns,” which are devices assembled at home and lacking serial numbers, making them more difficult to track. The people describing the talks spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss plans that were not public.

The White House focused heavily Tuesday on promoting legislation that has already passed the House to toughen background checks. And administration officials rejected the idea that they have not focused on gun control, pointing to meetings they have had with advocates.

So they have not been idle, just busy with other matters, which now must be put on hold:

The shootings have jolted a highly choreographed opening to the Biden presidency, forcing the president to confront polarizing issues he trod over lightly as a candidate. Biden during the campaign portrayed himself as a unifier, emphasizing noncontroversial topics such as pandemic relief and job creation.

Few issues in recent decades have been as contentious as guns. Republicans have used the topic to galvanize their base, warning that Democrats are trying to take away firearms. The attacks have caused Democrats to navigate the issue warily, worried they would pay a political price especially among rural voters if they championed gun-control measures too aggressively.

But it’s time to fight this losing battle again:

After a February 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., students launched a wave of activism that propelled gun-control issues to the front of the Democratic agenda, including Biden’s. But since taking office, the president has been swamped by other crises, from the pandemic to the economy to immigration.

Meanwhile, there is little evidence that Congress has become any more hospitable to gun control. While there are fewer Democrats representing rural areas, there are fewer moderate Republicans, leading to even greater polarization.

Still, gun-control activists say there are some reasons for hope. They cite the enduring popularity of expanding background checks; they point to the internal problems that have roiled the National Rifle Association, their most powerful opponent; they reflect on the success Democrats have had running on gun issues in the suburban areas where their congressional majorities were built; and they point to a recently successful push to place new restrictions on guns in Virginia.

But that hardly matters:

While Democrats spoke of an aggressive push to bring gun legislation to the Senate floor, they carefully calibrated expectations to make clear that the likely outcome was simply a debate…

They know the situation. Democrats don’t have the votes to break a Republican filibuster. Democrats don’t have the votes to eliminate the filibuster.

Expect nothing. Aaron Blake explains why:

Every time there is a mass shooting in the United States, the debate quickly turns to whether this might be the one – or, in the case of the last week, the two – that will ultimately force major action on gun restrictions.

In many ways, it seems lawmakers have given up even pretending that might be the case.

The tragedies in Atlanta last week and Boulder, Colo., this week have spurred the expected and logical debate about what more can be done about making sure guns don’t find their ways into the hands of the kinds of people who committed these atrocities. And there is an attempt to have that debate.

But even those who have spurred previous efforts acknowledge it’s likely for naught, as it has long been.

They know better now:

The last major push for major gun restrictions came in 2013. The combination of a Republican senator, Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), and a Democratic senator from a conservative state, Joe Manchin III (W.Va.), gave the movement hope in a Democratic-controlled Senate after elementary school students in Connecticut were massacred. If these lawmakers could support such a bill, and at such a time, maybe it had legs.

In the end, just four Senate Republicans voted for the bill expanding background checks, while multiple Democrats voted against it. Two of those four Senate Republican “yes” votes – John McCain (Ariz.) and Mark Kirk (Ill.) – are no longer in the Senate. Neither are two red-state Democrats who opposed the bill, but in a 50-50 Senate and with the filibuster creating an effective 60-vote threshold, the math is even tougher today.

Toomey is retiring, giving him more latitude to try to push something through. But he didn’t sound especially encouraged about rekindling the “Manchin-Toomey” bill on Tuesday.

It didn’t work in 2013 and things are even nastier now:

While there has certainly been resistance to gun restrictions even shortly after tragedies in the past, generally that opposition takes a while to build. Lawmakers don’t want to be seen as prejudging potential solutions with emotions still raw.

By contrast, on Tuesday Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) angrily hit back at those pushing new restrictions and those who criticized the restrictions’ opponents, accusing them of “ridiculous theater.” Democrats have increasingly criticized the “thoughts and prayers” response to such tragedies, arguing that’s insufficient and a cop-out, but Cruz took exception when Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) made that point.

“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Cruz said.

Sen. Cynthia M. Lummis (R-Wyo.) echoed that point, saying: “Every time that there’s an incident like this, the people who don’t want to protect the Second Amendment use it as an excuse to further erode Second Amendment rights.”

And Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) set the line at any increased background checks, saying, “I think we’ve got enough background checks.”

In short, let’s not talk about this. Things are different now:

The GOP pushback isn’t a coincidence; it’s a reflection of its base. Even as mass shootings have increased in recent years, Republican voters have dug in more against efforts to pass new gun restrictions. Democrats will often cite polls showing the vast majority of Americans favor increased background checks – which is true – but when the framing is turned to the more basic question of whether you favor or oppose increased gun restrictions, Republicans are vehemently against.

A Pew poll in 2019 showed that 8 in 10 Republicans thought it was more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns than to control gun ownership – up from around half just more than a decade ago.

That means that the time for hope is over:

Democrats might believe that these voters – and by extension, their representatives – could be convinced of the wisdom of restrictions that polls suggest the vast majority of Americans support. But these arguments generally get distilled into much more binary form – between increasing gun restrictions versus increasing gun rights. And beyond that, Republican senators know that anything that trends in the former direction would be something they would have to explain in ways they wouldn’t otherwise need to.

So expect nothing. Even that Nixon in China thing didn’t work out:

The best recent chance for such legislation may have been in the previous administration, under President Donald Trump. Trump for a time at least expressed an interest in increasing restrictions. He was a convert to conservatism, rendering him a somewhat free agent on this issue. And if there was anyone in the GOP who could have brought the National Rifle Association to heel, it was arguably him; such was his sway over the base.

But ultimately Trump opted for a much more limited executive order on the kind of “bump stocks” used in the Las Vegas tragedy. The Senate also passed legislation adding information to the background checks system, but nothing near the scale of other recent proposals.

And the instant resistance to the effort today in Trump’s party doesn’t suggest this will turn out much differently.

So we’re stuck. Curiously, other nations are not stuck – like Australia:

Martin Bryant, 29, killed 35 people near Port Arthur historic prison in Tasmania, Australia, using a legally purchased Colt AR-15 semiautomatic rifle in April 1996. It was the deadliest massacre in Australia during the 20th century and came just weeks after the killings in Dunblane.

The slayings drew widespread attention to Australia’s gun laws which were especially relaxed in Tasmania. The island, which has its own state government, had required gun licenses only since 1988 and did not require rifles to be registered.

The Australian federal government, then led by center-right Prime Minister John Howard, coordinated with states to restrict the ownership of automatic and semiautomatic rifles and shotguns. Within a year, the government bought back 650,000 firearms.

Some studies have indicated the program may have been a success and that Australia became a less violent place in the years since the buyback.

In 2013, Howard wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that called on President Barack Obama to follow his model. “Few Australians would deny that their country is safer today as a consequence of gun control,” Howard wrote.

Obama was fine with that, Republicans were not, and then there’s New Zealand:

In March 2019, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, and killed 51 Muslim worshipers with weapons that included an AR-15-style rifle. Less than 24 hours later, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the country would change its gun laws.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand had relatively relaxed gun regulations and a powerful gun lobby. Before the attack, there were an estimated 250,000-gun-owners in the country, which has a population of 5 million people. Tarrant, an Australian citizen who had been living in New Zealand since 2017, had purchased his weapons legally, though he had illegally modified some.

Ardern was able to gather swift support for tougher gun laws, putting temporary measures in place within days. The following month, parliament made the changes official, with overwhelming bipartisan support and only one lawmaker opposing. Among the plans were a gun buyback scheme, as well as restrictions on AR-15s and other semiautomatic weapons.

Because of the lax tracking of these weapons, authorities were initially unsure how many there were in the country. “It’s really an open checkbook,” Joe Green, gun safety specialist and former arms control manager for the New Zealand Police, told The Washington Post, “because they don’t know how many they are buying back.”

A second round of gun laws were passed in 2020, which required setting up a new firearms registry that gun license holders were required to update as they buy or sell firearms.

In an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour in June 2019, Ardern said she was bewildered by the United States’ reluctance to pass gun-control laws. “Australia experienced a massacre and changed their laws. New Zealand had its experience and changed its laws. To be honest with you, I do not understand the United States,” she said.

She is not alone, and then there’s Canada:

In April 2020, Gabriel Wortman, dressed in an authentic Royal Canadian Mounted Police uniform and driving a mocked-up police cruiser, went on a 13-hour rampage through rural Nova Scotia, killing 22 people in the deadliest mass shooting in modern Canadian history.

Police shot the 51-year-old denturist dead at a gas station. Court documents showed that he was armed with two semiautomatic rifles and two pistols. He did not have a firearms license, and some of the weapons were smuggled in from the United States.

Two weeks later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a ban on more than 1,500 makes and models of “military-style assault weapons,” including the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14, which was used in a 1989 massacre that left 14 dead at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. It makes it illegal to shoot, transport, sell, import or bequeath those weapons…

Last month, the federal government introduced legislation that would create “red flag” laws, establish new firearm offenses and allow municipalities to ban handguns through bylaws restricting their possession, storage and transportation.

It also promised to introduce a buyback program for prohibited firearms that it announced last year. An amnesty measure would be in place until the end of April 2022 to allow owners of those weapons to comply. The buyback program has angered survivors of mass shootings because it is voluntary. Family members of those killed at the Ecole Polytechnique said that Trudeau would no longer be welcomed at commemorations of the shooting unless the buyback program is mandatory.

Of course they’re Canadians, those useless “nice” people, but then Boulder had tried to be Canadian:

The city of Boulder, Colo., barred assault weapons in 2018 as a way to prevent mass shootings like the one that killed 17 at a high school in Parkland., Fla., earlier that year.

But 10 days after that ban was blocked in court this month, the city was rocked by its own tragedy: Ten people were killed at a supermarket Monday after a gunman opened fire, law enforcement officials said.

In announcing the arrest Tuesday of the suspected 21-year-old gunman – who has been charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree – investigators determined that the suspect had purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol on March 16, according to the arrest affidavit.

The city passed its ban. The courts ruled they had no right to do that. The shots rang out a few days later. This was too much of a coincidence:

No other details were released as to when or how the suspect obtained the AR-15-style firearm six days before the shooting, or whether the gun was used at the King Soopers grocery store. Police have yet to say whether the ordinance would have prevented him from buying or possessing the weapon within city limits.

Boulder City Attorney Tom Carr declined to comment to The Washington Post, but pointed to language in the city’s code on assault weapons suggesting that the AR-556 pistol linked to the suspected shooter would have been included in the ban that was recently overturned.

But it’s too late now:

Rachel Friend, a city council member, said the events that led to a mass shooting unfolding shortly after a judge blocked the weapons ban left her frustrated and overwhelmed with sadness.

“I am still too numb or in shock to say how this happened so quickly on the heels of it being struck down – except to say this is why we wanted to pass the ban in the first place,” Friend told the Washington Post. “It hurts.”

The Colorado State Shooting Association, one of the plaintiffs that sued Boulder over the assault weapons ban, rejected that sentiment, arguing in a statement that “emotional sensationalism” about gun laws would cloud remembrance of the victims.

“There will be a time for the debate on gun laws,” the group said in a statement. “But today is not the time.”

After all, they had already won:

The ordinance generated vigorous opposition from gun rights activists across the state. On the day of the vote, advocates from around Colorado descended on Boulder, many of them carrying concealed rifles with them into city government buildings.

A month after it passed, the law was challenged in state district court by two Boulder residents, a local gun shop and the Colorado State Shooting Association, according to the Denver Post. Richard A. Westfall, the residents’ attorney, did not immediately respond to a message from The Post early on Tuesday.

On March 12, Boulder County District Judge Andrew Hartman sided with the plaintiffs, saying that, according to a 2003 Colorado state law, cities and counties cannot restrict guns that are otherwise legal under federal and state law.

The “need for statewide uniformity favors the state’s interest in regulating assault weapons,” Hartman wrote. He said Boulder’s ordinance “could create a ripple effect across the state” by encouraging other municipalities to pass their own bans.

The National Rifle Association cheered the ruling on Twitter last week, noting that its lobbying arm had supported the lawsuit against the ban.

But there are ten dead. The kid bought the gun. The Denver Post did the legwork. That would be this kid:

The 21-year-old Arvada man arrested in Monday’s mass shooting at a Boulder King Sooper’s was violent, short-tempered and paranoid during high school, his former classmates said Tuesday… He attended Arvada West High School from 2015 until he graduated in 2018, Jeffco Public Schools spokeswoman Cameron Bell confirmed Tuesday. He was on the wrestling team his junior and senior years.

“He was kind of scary to be around,” said Dayton Marvel, a teammate on the wrestling team. Alissa once had an outburst and threatened to kill people during an intra-team match, Marvel said.

“His senior year, during the wrestle-offs to see who makes varsity, he actually lost his match and quit the team and yelled out in the wrestling room that he was, like, going to kill everybody,” Marvel said. “Nobody believed him. We were just all kind of freaked out by it, but nobody did anything about it.”

He said he did not like spending time with Alissa, and Alissa was not close with anyone on the wrestling team.

There’s a reason for that.

Another teammate, Angel Hernandez, said Alissa got into a fight in the parking lot after the match. “The other wrestler was just teasing him and goes, ‘Maybe if you were a better wrestler, you would have won.’ Alissa just lost it. He started punching him,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez said Alissa frequently appeared to be paranoid about perceived slights against him, and Marvel said Alissa was often concerned about being targeted because of his Muslim faith.

“He would talk about him being Muslim and how if anybody tried anything, he would file a hate crime and say they were making it up,” Marvel said. “It was a crazy deal. I just know he was a pretty cool kid until something made him mad, and then whatever made him mad, he went over the edge, way too far.”

Way too far? That’s an issue:

In 2017, Alissa, then 18, attacked a classmate at Arvada West High School, according to an affidavit filed in the case. He punched the classmate in the head without warning, and when the boy fell to the ground, Alissa continued to punch him. The classmate suffered bruises and cuts to his head, according to the affidavit.

Witnesses told police they didn’t see or hear any reason for Alissa to attack the classmate. Alissa told officers that the classmate “had made fun of him and called him racial names weeks earlier,” according to the affidavit.

He was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 2018 and was sentenced to probation and 48 hours of community service, according to court records.

He had a record, a conviction for misdemeanor assault. That might have shown up in a background check. But it was not a felony conviction, so maybe not, but there’s this:

Despite his short temper, Hernandez said Alissa could also be friendly and “joyful.”

“The sad thing about it is that if you really were to get to know him, he was a good guy,” Hernandez said. “Whenever you went up to him, he was always so joyful and so nice. But you could tell there was a dark side in him. If he did get ticked off about something, within a split second, it was like if something takes over, like a demon. He’d just unleash all his anger.”

But this is America. Anyone who want a gun gets a gun. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – “To be honest with you, I do not understand the United States.”

Who does, now?

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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