After Michigan State, we have to ask why mass shootings are the new normal | Mike Kelly

Gun Rights

5-minute read

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Once again, our news is filled with video footage of police converging on another mass shooting scene. We watch the long faces of tired politicians shaking their heads as they grope for answers, the throngs of grim mourners standing shoulder to shoulder with their vigil candles offering some measure of light to the evening’s darkness, the tearful relatives trying to eulogize the dead.

Yet we refuse to ask: What have we become?

More to the point:  Is this the America we want?

Sadly, this is reality now in our nation.

So far this year, America has hosted more than 70 mass shootings in which four or more people have been killed or wounded. I don’t use the word “hosted” frivolously. 

To host an event is to invite it — or to do as little as possible to prevent it. But doesn’t that sum up America and mass shootings? Such a conclusion may seem harsh. But if we do little to stop the madness, aren’t we supporting the madness?

Just like 2022, we’re on pace this year to set a record for mass shootings.  And despite the platitudes and hand-wringing and “thoughts and prayers” from leaders of both political parties, our governments at all levels have done little to stem the bloody tide.

That’s not an exaggeration. That’s a fact. As for the rest of us, we talk about wanting to stop the bloodshed. But what have we really done — except watch the TV footage?

The latest dateline is East Lansing, Michigan, home to the bucolic campus of Michigan State University, where three students were murdered and five more were wounded critically in a burst of rapid fire on Monday.  But this time, we endured a new twist.

After the killer, 43-year-old Anthony McRae took his own life, police found a three-page statement in his pocket. McRae’s words offered hints on why he entered a classroom building and then the student union on Monday night at Michigan State and started shooting, police said.

But in his statement, McRae also reportedly offered a wider list of potential targets that included other communities in Michigan, Colorado and Ewing Township and Franklin Park, New Jersey. McRae, who reportedly suffered from a variety of mental problems, said those places “hurted (sic) him and, therefore, were deserving of attack.”  

So imagine the next scene.

Authorities in East Lansing were trying to determine if McRae, who killed himself with a semi-automatic pistol and had another semi-auto handgun with additional magazines in a backpack before he could talk to police, was just a troubled loner or part of a wider plot that might ripple across the nation from Michigan to the flatlands of New Jersey to the mountains of Colorado.

Who knew?   

By 6 a.m. Tuesday, East Lansing police called the New Jersey State police who, in turn, reached out to police in Ewing with a warning that trouble might be headed their way.  Police quickly notified local school officials who, in turn, canceled classes for the day. 

Such is the new wrinkle to the latest mass shooting — the ripple effect. All this on Valentine’s Day.

‘I am so mad’: Faith leaders demand new gun control laws after Michigan State shooting

More coverage:Officials say MSU shooter had ties to New Jersey. Here’s what we know now

Can’t we channel the outrage?


Buffalo Tops supermarket shooter attacked during sentencing

Payton Gendron, who pleaded guilty to killing 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket, was removed after he was attacked during victim’s statements.

Claire Hardwick, USA TODAY

What’s strange here is that our nation does not seem overly outraged at this series of events that began with college kids murdered in Michigan and other kids in New Jersey forced to stay home from school.

And wasn’t it more than ironic that only a day later, we watched more video of the aftermath of yet another mass shooting?

This other footage showed relatives passionately addressing a judge and another mass killer in Buffalo, New York, who was about to be sentenced to life in prison without parole for murdering 10 people and wounding three more at a supermarket last May that catered to Black residents. At the time, the killer, who is white, reportedly championed deeply racist, white supremacist sentiments.

The video from Buffalo conveyed the still-deeply emotional sentiments of relatives of the victims, months after they buried their loved ones. And then, it showed us something else — an enraged relative so overcome with grief and anger that he stopped talking and tried to run across the courtroom toward the killer. Let’s take a wild guess here and assume that this relative did not want to shake hands with the killer.

Court officers caught the man in mid-stride and subdued him. Other court officers protected the killer — all captured in more dramatic video for the nightly news.

We watched, of course. And then we moved on to the next story. The Chinese spy balloons?  The earthquake on the Syrian-Turkish border? The latest weather mess?

It’s all become a steady stream now.

More Mike Kelly:Why is the latest police shooting in Paterson shrouded in mystery?

An orgy of guns

This columnist has written about mass shootings and the dangerous proliferation of rapid-firing weaponry for more than three decades. Nothing has changed — except, perhaps, the increase in shootings and the uptick in gun sales and illegal guns.

Led by courageous action by New Jersey’s Gov. James Florio, America banned so-called military-style assault weapons in the mid-1990s. Then the gun lobby found so many loopholes that the federal law was rendered virtually powerless in just a few years. A decade later, the Republican-led Congress, smothered by the financial largesse of the National Rifle Association, allowed the federal assault weapons ban to dissolve.

The result was an orgy of guns — so many that America could basically outfit an army of a million civilians with the kinds of weapons that U.S. soldiers carried on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq. 

And now, our government leaders are left to try to stop the silly march of laws that allow ordinary citizens, with almost no training required, to carry concealed handguns in public.

New York and New Jersey have tried to set up gun-free zones, banning the carrying of concealed firearms in so-called sensitive places. But a string of judges have pretty much put a stop to those commonsense restrictions. So besides the mass killings that are now taking place at record levels, our allegedly smart nation is allowing even more citizens to carry guns just about anywhere in public.

How does any of this make sense?

Oh, yes, I can imagine the stream of idiot wind sentiments that will surely emerge from America’s gun advocates as they read my objections to laws that allow more people to tote concealed handguns. They will inevitably cite the NRA trope that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is for a good guy to have a gun” — as if we all can become modern-day equivalents of Wyatt Earp. Then they will point to their belief that the Second Amendment, written in an age of single-shot muskets, should be the legal foundation that allows people in the 21st century to carry guns that can rattle off 20 rounds in 10 seconds.

That logic works, right? When some nutjob decides to pull out his gun and shoot up the nearest Walmart, we can surely stop the bloodshed by pulling out our guns like a squad of Quick-Draw McGraws. By the way, how do we tell the good guys from the bad guys in a gun fight? Just asking.

Police firearms experts have told me for years that the civilian gun culture — the gun-on-my-hip hipsters who fancy themselves as “suburban commandos”— are not the solution to mass shootings. And yet, where are the police brass and rank-and-file unions when mass shootings take place? Their silence on the proliferation of military-style rifles and police semi-automatic handguns is striking. If cops worry about being outgunned, why don’t they speak up more?    

What’s also striking here is that few politicians or law enforcement experts want to embrace the obvious — that the only way to stop gun violence is to take away guns and bullets. There is a logical reason why mass shootings are rare in places like Great Britain and Japan. Simply put: Guns are rare in those nations. You don’t need a doctorate in logic to understand the connection.  

America won’t take that step. We’ve made a Wild West deal with ourselves that we will continue to allow our churches and synagogues to be attacked, along with our malls, our groceries, our schools, our movie theaters, our offices and nightclubs and hospitals and concert venues — to name just a few mass shooting targets in recent years.

We do little as we light our candles and sing our pathetic renditions of “Amazing Grace.” We let our politicians mumble platitudes and empty hopes while pointing fingers of blame at the other party. And we will watch our videos of our mothers and fathers lamenting about the lives “cut short.”

And we will move on. We always do.

We have become a nation of cowardly numbness. We celebrate our Super Bowls and patronize our patriotism with flags and anthems and chicken wings and silly TV ads. And then, the next day, we are silent while another American town is turned into a crime scene, where kids’ lives are cut short. It’s the same silence we invoked when others were murdered before because they were Black or Jewish or gay — or because they just happened to be in the “wrong place at the wrong time.”

Our cops and school officials, meanwhile, are forced to become arbiters of danger. Is that three-page “statement” found in the jacket pocket of Anthony McRae after he shot up the classroom building and student union at Michigan State a warning that should be heeded in New Jersey? Should we cancel a whole day of classes for kids who have already missed too much school because of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Dear America: Are you sick of this yet?

Apparently not.

Stay tuned for the next shooting.

It’s coming — for sure.

Mike Kelly is an award-winning columnist for as well as the author of three critically acclaimed non-fiction books and a podcast and documentary film producer. To get unlimited access to his insightful thoughts on how we live life in New Jersey, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.


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