The 4 July massacre in Highland Park, Illinois offers yet another example of how US gun laws have allowed violence in the nation to spin out of control – but US media and political institutions appear disinclined to take a broader, systemic look at how we got to this point.
The shooter, Robert Crimo III, is the focus of coverage. It’s a typical, and even understandable, response to a tragedy like the Highland Park shooting – especially when the shooter is white. Who the shooter is and what led him (it’s almost always a him) to murder – as of writing this – seven people and injure 25 can give people the illusion of an answer to the unanswerable. Thus Crimo’s background as both a rapper and the son of a Trump-supporting Republican, who once ran for mayor of Highland Park, has come under scrutiny. His politics and his mental health are being pored over by commentators in the search for any explanation for the violence. The undercurrent of racism can’t be ignored – “how could this happen” in a predominantly white, wealthy neighbourhood, “it’s not supposed to in these communities”, etc – but that’s not the full story.
Zeroing in on the specifics of the shooter’s ideology and mental state is not a new way of looking at these tragedies in the US. And centring the political and cultural background of Crimo allows political leaders to waive responsibility their own inaction in the face of an ongoing crisis of gun violence that has escalated even further in recent months. President Joe Biden, in a statement on the shooting, touted a watered-down gun bill that passed Congress last month in the wake of May’s elementary school slaughter in Uvalde, Texas as an achievement. “I recently signed the first major bipartisan gun reform legislation in almost 30 years into law, which includes actions that will save lives,” Biden said. “But there is much more work to do, and I’m not going to give up fighting the epidemic of gun violence.”
Such promises are empty, however, given the intransigence of the Republican Party, which is hand in hand with the gun lobby. The Uvalde shooting moved a few GOP senators over on last month’s bill, but only after diluting the content of the legislation to ensure it didn’t include expanded background checks or an assault weapons ban – even though both policies enjoy majority support with the broader public. But it worked for their ends. Now, in the wake of another violent weekend, Republicans can point to the insufficient bill as an excuse for not taking further action.
The systemic failures that have led the country to the point where someone can legally purchase a high-powered rifle and open fire on people enjoying a holiday parade are overwhelming. Little wonder that the reaction is to fall back on old tropes in order to try to explain it – the lone wolf theory, individual radicalisation, mental illness – rather than confronting head-on the fact that the US is awash with guns and there’s no institutional solution to manage that reality.
[See also: Shooting deaths in the US reveal the deadly cost of America’s gun obsession]