Mass killing in Chesapeake, Va., strikes country fed up with gun violence

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Over the course of 10 days, people across the country woke up to a version of the same news on three different mornings: another high-profile shooting and another death toll. Three, last week, on a university bus. Five, on Saturday, inside a nightclub. Six, Tuesday, in a Walmart. And now, on a uniquely American Thanksgiving holiday, the nation must once again reckon with the reality that its uniquely American crisis can end a life anytime, anywhere.

“We’re not free,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, “if we’re worried that wherever we are, we’re at risk of being shot.”

Watts, known in part for tweeting the details of nearly every mass shooting, had hoped this week would give her a break. She spent Tuesday finding ingredients for stuffing and making airport runs to pick up her children who were flying home for the holidays. Then she saw the news from Chesapeake, Va., and shared it. But when she noticed that the shooting still hadn’t started to develop on Twitter, a sense of dread washed over her. She was worried about people looking away.

“We are not numb – we are traumatized,” submitted Watts, who was inspired to launch his gun violence prevention group a decade ago after 20 first-graders were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

“When you’re constantly exposed to gun violence, whether you’re a survivor or someone who’s experienced this in their community or even spent, when you see it on the news, it affects us,” she said later. “The violence bleeds into our consciousness.”

America is enduring a historic stretch of gun violence that spiked at the start of the pandemic and has yet to abate. Bullets killed more than 47,000 people last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And yet shows a Washington Post analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive the pace of mass shootings — where four or more people are injured in a single incident, not including the shooter — is lagging slightly behind last year at this time, 2022’s total could double 2018’s.

School shootings, meanwhile, have never been worse. The number of incidents, deaths and children shot on campus are all expected to set records.

The relentlessness of the epidemic has left many Americans exhausted.

On Nov. 13, police said, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student shot his classmates after returning from a bus trip to DC where the group had seen a play and eaten together. All three young men who died played on the football team.

Six days later, in Colorado Springs, authorities allege another 22-year-old, this one wearing camouflage and a bulletproof vest, opened fire inside a LGBTQ nightclubkilling five and injuring at least 18 others.

And there was the shooting late Tuesday in Chesapeake, where authorities and witnesses said a Walmart employee opened fire in a break room, killing six employees and wounding others before taking his own life. Then came the familiar responses: demands for change from gun safety activists, rejection of those demands from the National Rifle Association and from Virginia’s Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, a call to save the debates for a future day.

After each mass killing, gun rights activists suggest that what the country really needs to protect itself are even more lethal weapons, a compelling refrain for millions of gun owners. It is in spite of that armed guards have repeatedly failed to stop school shootings, and years of research have shown that the mere presence of a firearm in a home significantly increases the danger to the people who live in it.

Regardless of the disagreements, only more carnage awaits, as the recent past has made clear.

Less than a month before the Chesapeake shooting, a man with an AR-15-style rifle and more than 600 rounds of ammunition killed two people at a high school in St. Louis. And Thanksgiving marks the six-month anniversary of the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Tex., where 19 children and two teachers were killed.

Then there are shootings that go largely unnoticed but nonetheless devastate millions of people every year.

This month, a man fatally shot three people, including his wife, in rural Pennsylvania and was then killed when he fired on troops. Just over a week later, a 3-year-old boy died after accidentally shooting himself with a gun he found in a Utah apartment. A day after thata Maryland man was accused of gunning down his ex-girlfriend and her three children.

“What keeps me up at night is the question of whether this country is just learning to live with this,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who has long championed gun safety reform. “We have to maintain our sense of outrage about this. And I know it’s going to get harder and harder.”

Zoe Touray understands that too.

Touray, 18, survived the massacre at Oxford High School in Michigan on November 30, 2021. As time has passed, she has noticed how many people have forgotten the shooting at her school and the four teenagers whose lives it took.

“It bothers me that sometimes people forget that we had a tragedy because maybe it was ‘less’ than others,” she said. “But really, they all have a huge impact.”

Touray recently started a group, Survivors Embracing Each Other, in hopes of supporting more victims. She hosted her first event Saturday in Uvalde, just hours before the Colorado Springs shooting 850 miles away. Dozens of kids competed in limbo contests and played with therapy dogs, munched on wings and made tie-dye shirts.

She learned of the nightclub attack the next morning, on her way to spend the day with a 10-year-old girl who had run away from Robb. They were supposed to go to an arcade together and eat pizza. Touray had to turn off his phone.

Back in Michigan on Wednesday, she also had to avoid news of the Walmart shooting. She and her former schoolmates had planned to light lanterns together in honor of their friends who were killed almost exactly a year earlier.

For many people, this trio of widely covered mass shootings felt like a single, inevitable event, with the agony of one lingering in the next. This was especially true for Johnny de Triquet.

As a U-Va. alumnus, he was shocked to learn that his alma mater’s idyllic campus had been the scene of such terror. A 38-year-old gay man, he was horrified again last weekend after the killings in Colorado led to the suspect being charged with a hate crime. And then finally, as a Chesapeake native, he was devastated by the attack in his hometown, a bastion of “Southern hospitality” where he and his partner traveled from New York City for vacation.

“You never know what can happen — who’s going to act crazy in any kind of situation,” he said. “And we end up with a tragedy the next day on the news.”

For millions of Americans, the weariness and frustration stems both from the rate of gun violence and from how little those in power have done to address it.

The public may never find out why the shooters in Charlottesville or Colorado Springs or Chesapeake pulled their trigger. Investigators have not revealed what angered them or whether anyone could have intervened before blood was spilled. They were different people from different places, each with different backgrounds and circumstances, motives and hatreds. But they all had one thing in common: access to weapons.

The NRA insisted Tuesday that America’s Second Amendment, protecting gun ownership, had nothing to do with any of the killings.

“These are despicable acts by deranged criminals,” Amy Hunter, an NRA spokeswoman, wrote in a statement to The Post. “Rational Americans know that these crimes have nothing to do with the constitutional and self-defense rights of the law-abiding person.”

Yet America is the only high-income nation on Earth struggling with such extraordinary levels of gun violence, and experts say the only clear difference between this country and them is the number of firearms in this country — more than 400 million, by some estimates — and laws that are less effective in regulating them.

“There may be some diseases that can’t be cured. What do you do? But there are things about gun violence that are time-tested that maybe wouldn’t prevent every act of gun violence, but with the law of averages and large numbers, we would prevent a lot of them,” said David Chipman, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and one-time nominee to lead the agency. “Our political people in power are unwilling to do that.”

Youngkin was criticized online after calling the shooting at U-Va. an “event” on Twitter and does not mention the word “gun”. In his first tweet on the Walmart shooting, he condemned “heinous acts of violence” but again failed to note that the act was committed with a gun.

The push for potential gun control journalists’ reforms on Wednesday, Youngkin said he was open to discussing it, but — as conservative politicians often do — insisted that now is a time for grief, not solutions.

“Today is not the day. It is not the day,” he said. “But it will be. And we will talk about it.”

Chesapeake-area residents described tears and “heartbreak” when they spoke to The Post about the fatal shooting at Walmart on Nov. 22. (Video: John Warner, Joy Yi/The Washington Post, Photo: Carlos Bernate/The Washington Post)

Murphy said he suspects elected officials, both in state capitals and in Washington, won’t be able to avoid the issue much longer.

“I think this country has made the decision that they don’t want to live with this,” he said. “There were many reasons why Democrats did pretty well in this last election. But clearly, gun violence was a motivating issue. Of those who showed up for the midterms, the vast majority of them wanted tighter gun laws. And they people all voted for the Democrats. So I think the Republicans are starting to realize that their political future is in jeopardy if they don’t start joining us in these efforts.”

This summer, with the help of 15 Senate Republicans, Congress passed a gun control bill for the first time in decades, and while the legislation did not include the sweeping changes activists have long called for, Murphy said it was a significant victory that he believe will lead to more.

But for a senator whose career has been shaped by the Sandy Hook massacre, Murphy has accepted that nothing will end mass shootings in America.

On Tuesday, a former Olympic boxer in Miami got arrested after police discovered he was planning to commit a mass shooting. He made a $150 deposit for an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle at a pawn shop and posted threats online, writing on Instagram that he was “willing to shoot a real gun.” He would go through with it “for the sake of justice”.

His goal according to the police? A local gym that had revoked his membership.

Gillian Brockell, Peter Jamison and Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.

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