By: Jana Trehan
On August 3rd, 2019, my little sister turned nine. We celebrated by taking her to the mall in Braintree and letting her pick out whatever she wanted from her favorite store—Primark. Around the same time—about 2,500 miles away—21-year-old Patrick Cruisus walked into a Walmart in a very similar mall and opened fire with an AK-47. Within six minutes, he killed 20 people on the scene and injured 26 more. Two more would later die of their injuries. Cruisus open fired around ten in the morning. Fifteen hours later—in Dayton, Ohio— 24-year-old Connor Betts shot 26 people—killing nine. When mass shootings occur, I often find that the same cycles follow. There’s shock, grief, outrage, a few heroic stories, an outcry for gun control, a call for mental health initiatives to be put in place, and then, slowly, the news cycles move on to something else. It is not often that the U.S. is hit with two major mass shootings within 24 hours of each other. It doesn’t occur often, but it is not surprising. With that being said, let’s turn back to the shootings that occurred on August 3rd and 4th, respectively, and break them down.
While they occurred near each other, these were not similar shootings. In El Paso, the shooting was clearly racially motivated. The shooter posted a four-page essay—described as a manifesto— on popular imageboard website, 8chan.1 8chan is a message board site similarly formatted to Reddit and 4chan, known for having little content moderation. The essay explained in detail how the shooter felt that Hispanic immigrants were “overrunning” America and were draining the nation’s resources. According to the New York Times, it detailed plans to separate America into territories of race so that, “the white way of life is more sustainable.” It also stated that the shooter supported the Christchurch shooting—referring to the mass shooting in New Zealand earlier this year—which killed 52 Muslims in a mosque. Crusius was apprehended outside the Walmart alive and will be charged with capital murder— while the FBI and local authorities also pursue hate crime charges against him.2
Meanwhile in Dayton, the violence was more scarily random. Bett’s motive remains unclear—although it does not seem to be racially motivated. Betts drove to the Oregon district of Dayton on Saturday night with his sister, Meghan, and another friend of hers. Shortly after one in the morning, as the bars in the area were closing, and people were pouring out onto the street, Betts appeared dressed in black, with noise protection gear and body armor. He opened fire with a .223 semi-automatic gun and a high capacity magazine. He was carrying a minimum of 100 rounds of ammunition. In 36 seconds, he shot 26 people, killing nine—including his own sister. He was shot dead by police (3). Connor Betts was described as quiet and unsociable. The investigation revealed his strange obsession with violence and guns. In high school, he was suspended for having a “hit list” of female classmates who rejected him for dates4. The inherent misogyny in Betts and in other mass shooters is striking. I wonder what the connection between sexism and violence means for women and girls, like my sisters and I. Between the four of us, one of us is bound to reject a man eventually. How do we risk our lives each time we do that?
How do we put ourselves and each other at risk with such a simple act? What was more horrifying was watching the shooters mentalities play out in real time. Crusius posted his essay on 8chan only twenty minutes before entering Walmart, not hours before, because he knew it could be flagged, and potentially impede what he wanted to accomplish. Some say that this decision revealed his cold, hard and calculated mentality.2 Betts liked tweets that called for gun control, supported messages from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren following the El Paso shooting, and supported Anti-Facist movements. The role of social media in these shootings—specifically in El Paso—is interesting. It is not the first time that 8chan—and other forms of social media— have played a role in violence. According to the New York Times, the gunman who opened fire in a synagogue near San Diego this past April also posted an anti-semitic diatribe on 8chan that supported the sentiments of the Christchurch shooting, only moments before that shooting.2 The creator of 8chan took the website offline after the El Paso shooting.1
Following the mass shootings, some pointed to social media as the cause behind the radicalization of the young men involved in distinctly white supremacist shootings, such as the one in El Paso. Others have claimed that violent video games have caused an obsession with incurring violence for sport, as well as a desensitization toward the value of human life—like Connor Bett’s obsession with violence. The pro-gun control movement has rallied around the fact that both guns were purchased legally—with Connor Bett’s gun being purchased through the private seller loophole that organizations have been lobbying to close.3 Pro-gun groups and Republicans have pointed to the lack of access to mental health treatments. I fail to understand why something as small as closing the Private Seller’s loophole is so complicated for Congress. I do know why—the NRA, gun lobbies, money in politics, etc—but I don’t understand why. After nine people died from a contaminant in e-cigarettes, the Republican White House announced bans on the sale of e-cigarettes nationwide.6It took nine people to die and a few hundred cases of illness nationwide for a Republican administration to say, “hey, maybe we should take these away from people and save a few lives.” Now, if only the same logic could be applied to guns.
We can’t ignore how a mass shooting in proximity makes us feel as college students, on an open campus. I’ve always felt relatively safe in Massachusetts. We have some of the highest standards for gun ownership in the country and a relatively low level of gun violence. The Washington Post highlighted our gun storage laws, where gun owners are required to store their ammunition and their firearm separately, and in tamper proof safes with mechanical locks. This cut down the number of accidental shootings—where children had firearms in their homes and “played” with them, as well as the number of youth suicides with firearms. In Massachusetts, only 9% of youth suicides involved firearms, compared with 40% nationwide.5 My mom always jokes, “this is what high taxes buys you.” It’s funny, in a sad kind of way.
I feel safe when my sisters board the bus to school in the morning. Then sometimes, I think about the babies in the Sandy Hook shooting. They were babies when they died. This September, the 20 children who were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary school would have been in 8th grade. When I think about the children who were killed, I wonder why that wasn’t the end of the debate. I wonder why Columbine wasn’t the end of the debate. Then I get scared. Even if more babies die, even if more people die—nothing will change. The debate will never end. That’s crushing. We can put a bulletproof backpack on every baby in America, take one to every Walmart, every bar, every coffee shop and street corner, but the debate will never end. My sisters might be safe in their community— with high standards to own guns— but there’s so many other children out there, and their loved ones feel tiny shreds of dread every time they get on the bus in the morning. When I wrote the original draft of this article, the shootings had only occurred a week before. As of the thirteenth of September, forty-eight more mass shootings have occurred--according to the gun violence archive. The Gun Violence Archive dictates a mass shooting as an event in which four or more people are injured or killed—although shootings rarely happen back-to back in America. What I should have said was: two mass shootings that get media coverage rarely happen back-to-back in America. Mass shootings happen every day in America. What matters is whether they get media attention because media attention dictates whether we pay attention.
At the end of the day, our lives go on after every mass shooting. The news cycle moves on to something else happening in the world. I’m not going to stop going to Walmart; the Oregon district of Dayton will reopen for business
foot in a Walmart again. I wouldn’t blame the injured of Dayton if they feared crowds for the rest of their lives. As more and more lives are affected by gun violence, more and more of us are scared. More and more of are unsure how to heal. More and more of us fear for ourselves and our loved ones.
As the cities of El Paso, Dayton and Odessa try to heal in the days and months following these shootings, more questions will be raised about how these shootings come to be, what causes them and most importantly, how we can finally put an end to them.