On Friday, a longtime city employee opened fire inside a municipal building in the city of Virginia Beach with a legally purchased handgun, fatally injuring 12 people before police shot and killed him. Four others were wounded, including a police officer who was saved by his bullet-proof vest.
“Nothing like this happens in Virginia Beach,” resident Cheryl Benn said.
The sad truth is, something like this can happen anywhere.
And it does. Over and over.
If the shooter had any distinguishing traits, it was that he seemed so normal. As of now, no one knows his motive.
After the shooting, while speaking to the press, Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera spoke the name of the shooter, and then said he would never do so again.
We approve. News organizations have a responsibility to report facts, not to glorify anyone, nor to vilify them, but because they’re facts — but on this page, we will not use the killer’s name. Let it be forgotten, along with the names of the other mass shooters who succeeded in their missions of creating havoc and dealing death. If they sought fame, the least we can do is deny it.
Once again we have to note that this is a uniquely American problem. These types of mass shootings, in schools, in public buildings, in restaurants, movie theaters and nightclubs, rarely happen in other advanced countries.
Here, it happens again and again, as our political leaders shrug their shoulders and offer “thoughts and prayers” and pundits throw around theories that align with previously held political leanings. Lather, rinse, repeat.
May we, finally, do something different?
We need to study the epidemic of gun violence now more than ever, Dr. Gabriela Maradiaga Panayotti, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Duke Children’s Hospital, recently wrote in a Charlotte Observer column. Earlier this year she joined 300 pediatricians who marched on Capitol Hill in hopes of bringing attention to the issue.
“Many seem surprised when pediatricians talk about gun violence as a public health issue,” Dr. Panayotti wrote. “As pediatricians, we strive to promote the health and well-being of children. It is through our research and advocacy that lives have been saved. ...”
Members of her group met with Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis to ask for funding for gun violence prevention in the Senate appropriations bill. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown interest in studying the problem for decades, but congressional leaders have steadily applied the brakes for what can only be political reasons.
Earlier this year, House Democrats did allocate $50 million to study gun violence — $25 million to CDC and $25 million to the National Institutes of Health. But the Senate has to approve the legislation for it to become effective, and it seems reluctant to do so.
That’s where the rest of us can take action — by putting pressure on congressional leaders. If this were ebola or the bird flu, we would research the hell out of it. CDC and NIH should be given every resource, every dollar, to find an answer to this public health crisis.
We don’t know how many more victims there will be, but we know there will be more — especially if we refuse to address this deadly virus.
And none of us are immune.