A mass shooting that hit way too close to home

Jeff Neal

Last Saturday was horrific. That goes without saying.

The El Paso massacre was tough enough. But, for me personally, the true agony began at around 2 a.m. Sunday morning, as I learned that a mass shooting had occurred in my hometown of Dayton, Ohio.

Dayton is where I grew up. Dayton is where I take my family annually for its Christmas Parade and a weekend of holiday shopping. Dayton is a part of me.

The Oregon District in Dayton has undergone a great transformation over the last two or three decades. When I was growing up, it was a cool little section of town with a "hippie vibe." Little book stores and record stores mixed in with small cafes.

In the 80's, as more bars moved in, it was a high crime area. But renewal and renovation has made the Oregon District the new center of the city's entertainment district. The nice restaurants and night clubs draw young people who just want to have a good time with their friends.

On Saturday, a sick, evil man turned this area into a war zone. The duration was incredibly short -- thanks to the presence and response of the Dayton Police Department. But in under a minute -- probably more like 30 seconds -- this person had killed nine people and injured almost 30.

Had it not been for the brave police officers who put this animal down, he might have killed 100 people. At 1 a.m. on a Saturday night in the Oregon District, the streets are packed with folks.

In the aftermath of the horror of El Paso and Dayton, the politicalization of the "gun issue" has began (again) in earnest.

Second Amendment purists will tell you guns are not the problem, while gun-control activists will insist they're the only problem.

I think the American mass-shooting epidemic -- and make no mistake, it is an epidemic -- is multi-faceted.

Mental illness and the continued stigma of seeking treatment probably plays a role. Social isolation can play a part.

The breakdown of the family structure? The lack of religion, or the obsession with it? Yep, they can also be factors I suppose.

Mass media coverage of these crimes producing copycat killers? Maybe so.

The idolization of political leaders is certainly dangerous -- the El Paso shooter was a raving right-winger, while the Dayton shooter was an Elizabeth Warren-quoting leftist.

Is that to say Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren should be held responsible for Saturday's destruction? No. But there is no telling how a sick and twisted follower is going to act on his leader's words.

Violent television and video games? I don't put much stock into those claims, but again, you don't know how a sick person is going to respond to this stuff.

What bothers me is that there are violent TV shows and video games all over the world. There are people suffering from mental illness all over the world.

But the "mass shooting," for the most part, is an American phenomenon.

I believe in the U.S. Constitution. And I believe we do have a right, as American citizens, to own firearms.

But that doesn't mean we can't use caution and common sense when it comes to guns in our country.

Would it really be that bad to have more extensive background checks, that might push the purchase of a gun back 10 days? Would it be horrible to make sure we track purchases made from one citizen to another, or those made at gun shows?

All the checks at airports after 9/11 was an inconvenience, too, but they were put in place to make us more safe.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in February that would prohibit most person-to-person firearm transfers unless a background check can be conducted, aiming to close a potential loophole allowing the transfer of firearms without a background check at gun shows or between individuals.

That bill is currently collecting dust on Sen. Mitch McConnell's desk. The Majority Leader has thus far refused to bring it to the Senate for a vote. Maybe he will change his mind after last weekend. Who knows.

Some Republicans have suggested "red-flag laws" which would allow family members or law enforcement to limit a person's access to firearms if they are deemed a potential threat to the public.

And it goes without saying that the ban of assault-style rifles and certain "large-capacity" ammunition magazines for guns has been discussed. President Trump already took a step in this direction by banning "bump stocks," or attachments that could allow semiautomatic rifles to mimic automatic weapons, after an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas involving a rifle modified with a bump stock killed 58 people.

Some of these suggestions, in my opinion, are not radical and would not infringe greatly on our Second Amendment rights.

One thing is certain -- we have to come together as a nation and address the mass shooting epidemic. It's way past time.

The optimist in me hopes that our elected leaders can put their differences aside and work to develop a safer America for future generations.

But the pessimist in me recalls the nightmare of Sandy Hook and thinks ... if a classroom full of dead, precious first-graders don't move them to action, what will?

JEFF NEAL is the editor of the Commonwealth Journal. He can be reached at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.

Recommended for you