Editorial: Another day, another mass shooting

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“There’s one more kid that’ll never go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool…” – Neil Young, “Rocking in the Free World”

When news reports first started trickling in Sunday about an active shooter at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, the latest public massacre was, as always, gut wrenching. Yet, this time, more so.

Long gone is one’s sense of shock and dismay over mass shootings; the feeling of disbelief that lone wolves would scatter multi-rounds of steel at 1,700 mph into a crowd is a thin comfort of the past.

Gun-toting young men shooting at children and grandmas is like a blue moon – most people don’t know exactly when the next one’s coming, but they know one’s coming nonetheless.

So why would 19-year-old Santino William Legan’s murdering three and wounding 12 others hit closer to home in Sonoma than the many larger bloodbaths that have been allowed to occur across the country in recent years?

“A single death is a tragedy,” Joseph Stalin infamously observed. “A million deaths is a statistic.” And he knew a thing or two about it.

What’s particularly disturbing around here is that Gilroy has “Sonoma” written all over it: Longtime agricultural community on the outskirts of a California tech city that’s developed a nationally recognized foodie culture. A small Nor-Cal town with a big identity.

Family picnics, wines by the cup, a local cover band playing Beatles tunes and overpriced nibs on a reusable plate. The Garlic Festival is a bigger event, but think: Sonoma City Party, the Fourth of July parade, the Tuesday farmers market.

Or, don’t. Most would rather not; it’s hardly likely, right?

A 6-year-old, a 13-year-old and a 25-year-old were killed July 28. And so was a 19-year-old. A wretched, cruel, murderous kid; thank goodness the police shot him down that day as quickly as they did. But don’t fool yourselves into dismissing him as an evil Clockwork Orange; some malignant tumor. He was born an innocent baby and molded into what he would become thereafter – just like the rest of us – by the parents he had, the home he lived in, the friends he found and the media he was exposed to. The combination of which led to, according to San Francisco Chronicle reports about what was found in his home in Nevada, a stash of white supremacist literature and reading materials on radical Islam. Oh, and guns. Multiple guns. Plus a gas mask, a bulletproof vest and gun pamphlets. Just your average junk-drawer fodder.

The 6-year-old was a little boy named Stephen Romero; the 13-year-old was a girl named Keyla Salazar. We’ve grown so numb to these killings that Trevor Deon Irby, 25, isn’t highlighted in news reports like the younger kids, as if an adult victim of a mass shooting barely reaches the threshold of tragedy anymore.

We’ve grown to expect the occasional random slaughter now again. According to USAtoday.com, a survey conducted last year by Chapman University showed that 41 percent of Americans actively fear being caught in a mass shooting. It’s not as if they’re being alarmist: a shooting of four or more people occurs in the U.S. an average of once a day, according to researchers at Columbia University. Gun apologists in Congress and at the NRA already know that Americans have gotten to a point where we expect the shootings; what they’re crossing their fingers for next is that we come to accept them, as well.

Accept them as an unfortunate part of modern life – like traffic accidents and gout – and stop calling for reasonable gun restrictions on high-capacity firearms. Pull your bullet-riddled bodies up by your bootstraps, America.

And it seems to be working. The 12 wounded, four killed in Gilroy last week don’t appear to have been a big enough number to register another major outcry for legislation against rapid-fire weapons. After all, 30 percent of all mass shootings since 2010 have killed eight or more. Guess we’ve got to save our demands that elected officials do their jobs for messier massacres. The acceptance has begun.

Social scientists will correctly point out that it’s not all just about guns. The rise in mass shootings lies in direct correlation with increased use of the internet which – as Brian Levin, who studies extremism at Cal State San Bernardino, described in the USA Today – is like “a 24-hour hate rally and bookstore.” Loners with shared perceptions of the injustices society has wrought against them wallow in conspiracy theories and revenge fantasies, egged on by the anonymous fellow loners they socialize with online. Shooters seek glory in what they perceive will be an eventual online martyrdom within the extremist website community – a high body count the only metric to separate the “men” shooters from the “boys.”

Which is probably why Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock searched online for “most crowded festivals” in the ramp-up to his spree that killed 58 at a Sin City country music show in 2017.

In earlier days of mass shootings, killers sought enclosed places where victims were trapped; now outdoor venues may be preferable because they offer more immediate targets.

Anybody know any towns that stage a lot of outdoor parties, festivals and events?

And so we move on. And accept. We accept the reality of where we are as a country – and the fact that it’s going to take a lot of generational voter turnover to deal with the gun nuts, political extremists, hatemongers and their enablers in Congress before the day finally comes when mass shootings become a buried symptom of a sicker America’s past.

Until then, consider the story of Andrew Golden, one of America’s “original” school shooters. In 1998, Golden, 11, and Mitchell Johnson, 13, set off a fire alarm at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas and blasted away at classmates as they fled the campus. They killed four little girls and a teacher, Shannon Wright, wounding 10 others. Mitchell and Golden were tried as juveniles and released in 2005 and 2007, respectively, when they turned 21.

Last Saturday, Golden, 33, was driving on Highway 167 north of Little Rock when a Chevy Tahoe swerved across three oncoming traffic lanes, hitting his Honda CR-V head-on – killing Golden and injuring his wife and 2-year-old child.

Later that day, Mitch and Zane Wright, the husband and son of Shannon Wright, the teacher Golden gunned down on March 24, 1998, released a statement:

“The news of Andrew Golden’s death today fills our family with mixed emotions as I’m sure it does with the other families and students of the Westside shooting. Mostly sadness. Sadness for his wife and son, sadness that they too will feel the loss that we have felt.”

Imagine the empathy it took to write those words to the surviving family of the man-child who took your wife and mother.

With empathy like that, maybe there’s hope that American can curb its tolerance for gun violence after all. Maybe the idea that mass shootings are now an unavoidable part of modern life doesn’t have to be accepted. Maybe it can be unacceptable.

But it’ll take a lot of voices, a lot of education and a lot of votes before a mass-shooting per day doesn’t have to be done in America’s name.

Nor in the names of Stephen Romero, Keyla Salazar, Trevor Deon Irby, Shannon Wright and the thousands more victims every year.

Not in the name of Las Vegas, Orlando, Parkland or Newtown.

Not in the name of Gilroy.

And, god forbid, never in the name of Sonoma.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.

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