Column: A 7-year-old shot 6 times in Chicago and mass shootings nationally. Welcome to America.

Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read

Jaslyn Adams was 7 years old. My use of the past tense in that sentence should be concerning.

But this is Chicago, so you know what’s coming. And this is America, so you won’t be surprised.

Jaslyn, a first grader, was with her father in a McDonald’s drive-thru Sunday when two men opened fire on their vehicle. The little girl was shot six times.

I’ll repeat that sentence: The little girl was shot six times.

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A heroic police officer pulled Jaslyn from the car and raced her to Stroger Hospital, but there was no hope. Jaslyn died.

And like all the Chicago children lost to senseless Chicago street violence, her name will resonate in this moment, then fade. Do you remember 3-year-old Mekhi James? Do you remember 2-year-old Lavontay White Jr.? What about 11-year-old Takiya Holmes?

They’re remembered by those who loved them but forgotten by a city and country able to accept a steady parade of bodies, small and large, felled by bullets. It’s awful. Unthinkable, really.

But here, as Chicagoans, and nationally, as Americans, it’s who we are.

The little girl’s 29-year-old father was shot once in the back and is in serious condition. Police said he may have been the target, but the motive remains unclear.

Investigators found 45 shell casings at the McDonald’s where Jaslyn was shot. There were reportedly 28 from one handgun and 17 from another.

Forty-five shots at one car. Two men firing 45 shots in broad daylight. Imagine that.

On second thought, you don’t need to imagine it. We barely get past one deadly outbreak of gun violence in this country before another erupts.

The same day Jaslyn was killed, three men were fatally shot at a bar in Kenosha and three others were injured. Also Sunday, three people were shot to death in Austin, Texas.

Last week, eight people were shot dead at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis. On March 16, eight people were killed at three Atlanta-area spas, and since that time, according to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been nearly 60 mass shootings, defined as at least four people shot or killed, not including the shooter.

Almost 60 mass shootings in a little more than 30 days.

Forty-five shell casings in a McDonalds parking lot.

A 7-year-old girl shot six times.

There are only so many ways to say that those numbers are insane. What else do we call them? The cost of freedom? The cost of doing business in this fine nation of ours?

Personally, I consider guns the No. 1 problem. I don’t think any human should possess a device capable of swiftly firing dozens of bullets into a vehicle. I think — and feel free to call my a dreamer — that in the absence of guns, Jaslyn Adams and a long list of other people, young and old, would still be living.

But there is more to all this than just the guns. There’s mental health. And poverty. Loosely enforced gun laws. Substance abuse. The way violence spreads like a contagious disease.

Jaslyn is not dead because of any one thing. But the responsibility for her death rests on all of us and our unwillingness to tackle the many things that have made this country comfortable with, or maybe just resigned to, an unceasing procession of gun violence victims.

There are many fighting against our gun culture and blood-money groups like the National Rifle Association. There are many fighting poverty and trying to expand access to mental health services. There are even some pushing comprehensive plans that would address the myriad issues we know combine to create killers.

But Jaslyn is an example, and the eight dead in Indianapolis are examples, and the three dead in Kenosha are examples, and Mekhi James and Lavontay White Jr. and Takiya Holmes and Sincere Gaston and Lena Nunez Anaya and Dajore Wilson and child after child after child in Chicago are examples of nothing serious ever getting done.

I write columns like this over and over again, and people respond: “Well, what are we supposed to do about it?”

To which I wave my arms wildly in all directions and say: “ALL OF THESE THINGS!!!”

There are many issues to address, but at the end of the day, this isn’t like learning to build a pyramid. Fewer guns, more jobs and economic opportunity, better mental health care, less pandering to the gun lobby and people who think a few dead kids are fine as long as their hobby gets protected.

If you think any one of those things, on its own, will fix the problem, you’re wrong. But if you throw up your hands and say the problem can’t be fixed, you’ve distilled Jaslyn’s life — the lives of all the victims of nearly 60 mass shootings in the past month and the lives of all the people we know are yet to be slaughtered this year — down to some oafishly ludicrous line like, “Well, that’s the cost of being an American.”

A 7-year-old riddled with six bullets isn’t the cost of anything. It can’t be routine. It can’t be OK. It has to be worth fundamental changes in this country and the prying open of eyes squeezed shut.

We are, right now, a nation that sits on its hands while innocents are slaughtered.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s a choice. A horribly wrong one.

rhuppke@chicagotribune.com