Voices: The Highland Park mass shooting and the motive we can never address

·2 min read
 (City of Highland Park, Illinois Government/Chicago Tribune via AP)
(City of Highland Park, Illinois Government/Chicago Tribune via AP)

Good morning, and welcome to another day after another mass shooting in the United States of America.

According to our colleague Alex Woodward, the six dead and two-dozen wounded in Monday’s Highland Park, Illinois mass shooting have fallen victim to the 15th large-scale killing this year, and the 309th mass shooting as defined by the Gun Violence Archive.

After recent mass attacks in Buffalo, New York (targeting Black people while they shopped for food at a supermarket) and in Uvalde, Texas (targeting elementary school children), American legislators found enough gumption to pass what amounted to the first federal gun safety law in three decades. But will it matter?

I regret to inform you that the answer is: Probably not. For one, the federal law enacted just before President Joe Biden left for a series of meetings in Europe probably wouldn’t have stopped whoever committed the Independence Day shooting from purchasing the high-powered rifle used to kill a bunch of people at a holiday parade. It seems likely the firearm was bought legally.

But what’s more troubling is that the motive behind the killing, based on early reports, is not one that is likely to be easily addressed.

According to NBC News, the suspect who police and federal law enforcement officials arrested last night has a long history of involvement in internet subcultures which glorify violence and mass death. Congress can’t ban internet subcultures, nor can law enforcement police the speech of even the most alienated and disturbed of young men. But according to the US Supreme Court, states can’t enact many types of gun laws that could keep those young men from acquiring the types of powerful weapons preferred by most mass shooters.

It’s also unclear whether the Republican-appointed justices who comprise the high court’s majority would permit Congress to enact the sort of ban on military-style semi-automatic weapons (similar to the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004) that many Democrats would like to see reinstated.

Speaking on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson summarized the problem: “We will never, ever stem this tide of violence until we deal with the common element, which is the gun. There is mental illness and alienation. There are unattached and unmoored young men in every nation on earth. But in this nation, we have the potential for them to act out in this fatal, this tragic way, because we have more guns than people”.