The latest carnage represents the 309th mass shooting so far this year, according to the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, and comes at a time when the country’s social and political divisions have deepened on multiple fronts: the overturning of abortion rights; record rates of inflation; the threat to democracy highlighted by the January 6 Capitol attacks.
It also comes at a time when gun violence is fresh on the minds of many: six weeks after the rampage at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas; seven weeks after a racially motivated shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York; two weeks after the Supreme Court struck down a New York law limiting who can carry a gun in public.
Illinois is no stranger to gun crime – particularly in the Democrat-led city of Chicago – but Highland Park, which is home to a substantial Jewish population, is an affluent area filled with picturesque houses and leafy streets, and not the kind of place you’d expect to see such horror.
While the alleged gunman’s motivation remains unclear, his characteristics fit a familiar pattern: a young white male armed with a weapon of mass destruction, deliberately targeting innocent people.
In Uvalde and Buffalo, the shooters were both aged 18; in Highland Park, 22-year-old Robert E Crimo is the person of interest.
Larry Bloom, who was in the area when the shooting began, told NBC Chicago that spectators initially thought the “popping” sound was part of the parade.
“You heard like a ‘pop, pop, pop’ and I think everybody kinda thought maybe it was a display on one of the floats,” he said.
“Then it just opened up. I was screaming and people were screaming. They were panicking and they were just scattering … You know, it was right on top of us.”
The shooting puts renewed focus on the small but significant step Congress took last month, when it passed the first genuine bipartisan gun reform legislation in almost 30 years.
The bill – which president Joe Biden has now signed into law – enhances background checks for 18 to 21-year-old gun buyers; closes the so-called “boyfriend loophole” for domestic violence offenders not married to their partners; and sets up grants for states to encourage red-flag laws, which empower the courts to order the removal of a gun if the individual is deemed dangerous.
There’s also funding for mental health and school security, but broader reforms – such as universal background checks, or an outright ban on AR-style rifles – were non-starters.
Biden touted the changes on Tuesday (AEST) but admitted there was “much more to do”, saying in a statement he was “shocked” that another senseless shooting “has yet again brought grief to an American community”.
He also acknowledged, as he has many times before, that gun violence is an “epidemic” in the US. The trouble is, as long as assault rifles remain easily accessible across the country, it will remain so.
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