(CNN) — The latest mass shooting in America has turned a cherished Fourth of July parade from a scene of patriotic cheer to one of fear and death.
Rapid bursts from a high-powered rifle brought the chilling reality that no one can be sure of being safe, anywhere, at one of the most unifying gatherings in the country.
In that instant, Highland Park joined Uvalde, Columbine, Newtown and Parkland and a long list of cities and towns known across the country for slaughtering innocents in a contagion of gun violence that makes America an outlier in developed societies.
Debris strewn on the scene, a lone shoe, abandoned backpacks, overturned camping chairs, and empty strollers don’t just tell the story of the hasty panic of those who fled for their lives. It reflected another scene of normality shattered by a mass shooting. In this case, six people who just went out to celebrate America’s birthday are dead. More than two dozen, people between the ages of 8 and 85, according to doctors, are injured.
Only the place of the shooting this Monday, on a day dedicated to the national celebration, was variable. A similar horror unfolded in May at an elementary school in Texas and a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Mass shootings targeted proms last month in Texas and South Carolina. In Philadelphia, armed people hit a crowd enjoying the nightlife. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, there was a massacre at a medical center. In Brooklyn, the shooter was on the subway.
Monday’s television footage of police vehicles in Highland Park rushing to help under a waving American flag added a new ironic dimension to this latest horror. It took place as Americans gathered to celebrate the 246th anniversary of the freedoms inherent in American independence. However, what unfolded encapsulated the typically American cycle of gun death. When a gunman killed three people in a shooting at a shopping mall 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 United States came as no surprise.
“It is devastating that a celebration of America has been shattered by our unique American plague,” said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. “A day dedicated to freedom has highlighted the one freedom we as a nation refuse to defend: the freedom of our fellow citizens to live without the daily fear of gun violence.”
Shocked residents recount terror of Illinois shooting
Residents of the affluent, mostly white suburb with a thriving Jewish community expressed shock that such horror visited their city.
Some related scenes of injured victims on the sidewalk, of terrified families fleeing with their children, and of a man who put his children inside a dumpster for safety.
This was “simply inconceivable in a community like Highland Park,” Jeff Leon, an eyewitness who at first thought the rifle blasts were Fourth of July fireworks, told CNN.
Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider, who represents Illinois’ 10th congressional district, expressed similar disbelief. “Nobody thinks this could happen in our community, but that’s true across the country,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. And Dr. Brigham Temple, medical director of emergency preparedness at NorthShore University Health System, told reporters: “It’s a bit surreal to have to deal with an event like this.”
A common sentiment of people caught up in these kinds of mass shootings is disbelief that their community, which they thought was safe, was targeted. But in a nation awash with weapons, no one is immune. Even at perfectly safe Fourth of July celebrations across the country, how many attendees didn’t have a glimmer of concern for their safety? Having to think about the possibility of a mass shooting, at a school, a movie theater, or a place of worship, has now become a part of life, as it has happened so often. It’s another weight of anxiety and stress on a national psyche strained by the Covid-19 pandemic, skyrocketing inflation and vicious political divisions that contributed to a pessimistic mood this July 4th.
Gun violence is not new to American society. But the proliferation of deadly weapons is now forcing people across America to confront long-standing concerns of those familiar with the horrific toll of gun casualties in cities.
It hasn’t had as much coverage. But the high-profile shootings in Uvalde and Highland Park, for example, take place against a backdrop of relentless killings elsewhere.
There have been at least 311 mass shootings in the US so far this year, including 14 in the first four days of this month alone. according to Gun Violence Archive.
And it’s only July.
The politics of gun control
The suspect, Robert E. Crimo III, was taken into custody near Lake Forest, Illinois, authorities said during a brief news conference Monday night after an hour-long manhunt.
Sgt. Chris Covelli of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force said earlier in the day that the firearm used in the shooting was a “high-powered rifle” but declined to elaborate. If that is confirmed, it would be just the last time a gun with the ability to fire multiple rounds rapidly to lethal effect has been used in a mass shooting.
President Joe Biden and gun safety advocates have called for the reinstatement of a national ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004. However, there is no chance that such a move could get past Republican opposition in the US Senate due to filibuster rules requiring a 60-vote majority for major legislation. The Democrats with their slim majority are unlikely to be able to 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 draw national attention since the passage of the first major gun safety legislation in Congress in a generation. It’s too early to tell whether that measure, which poured new money into mental health resources and potentially slowed the rate at which people under 21 can obtain guns, could have prevented this tragedy or whether the incident will expose its limited reach. Biden and the families of the victims of the recent gun massacres had pleaded with Congress to do much more, but Republican opposition makes it nearly impossible to pass significant revisions to gun laws, including expanded background checks. .
The Fourth of July holiday meant there was little immediate political reaction to Monday’s massacre from Republicans, even as Democrats like Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. Pritzker called for more gun restrictions.
The rituals of America’s incessant mass shootings are now likely to have Republicans trying to point to factors other than the availability of guns. It’s true that most gun owners in America abide by the law. But logic suggests that America’s massive proliferation of weapons compared to other nations and the high incidence of mass murder are related. And it’s clear that more people with guns, what the National Rifle Association would call “good guys with guns,” aren’t stopping all these murders.
Second Amendment activists insist that the right to own high-powered weapons is within the right of all Americans to bear arms. And the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court is preparing to relax existing gun restrictions. All of which suggests that Monday’s shooting will not lead to any action that makes America safer. The heavy burden of passing even limited gun safety legislation last month suggests that a stagnant political system has already done all it can bear.
Yet every recent mass shooting raises the same questions, which are especially acute on a day when America celebrates its freedoms.
Why do the rights of those who insist they are constitutionally blessed to possess such deadly weapons trump the right to life of others, especially since most Americans support more comprehensive gun control? And why, for example, do moms, dads, children or grandparents have to run so often for their lives?
“It can happen anywhere,” Miles Zaremski, who witnessed the shooting in Highland Park, told CNN Monday afternoon. “I have lived many years on this planet and what I observed shocked me to the core.”
“If it can happen on the 4th of July, in a peaceful, law-abiding community that we have in Highland Park…it can happen anywhere.”