Square these thoughts: A gunman thought by coworkers and neighbors to be a nice and ordinary guy — an educated 40-year-old engineer — turns in his resignation notice on Friday morning and brings guns, extended magazines and a silencer to work in the afternoon. Then he seemingly indiscriminately kills 11 coworkers and a contractor in the same Virginia Beach city office where he'd worked for about 15 years.
In Chattanooga on Saturday night, a large crowd of young teens in a parking lot near a Riverbend gate scatters as a 14-year-old shoots and wounds two 13-year-olds. Miraculously, police officers subdue him before more people are injured.
Later, in the early hours of Sunday morning, another police officer at a Waffle House on East 23rd Street sees an argument outside in the parking lot. When he goes out to break it up, he finds a woman holding a gun. He tries to disarm her and the gun goes off, striking him and another man. Both are expected to recover, and aggravated assault and reckless endangerment warrants have been issued for the 26-year-old woman.
In Middle Tennessee, police say they've minimized a threat posted by a man against the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival. The post, which mentions a bomb, states, "I might kill such people." Officers contact the person responsible for the post "to minimize or negate the potential threat." The festival is set to start June 13 in Coffee County.
Why so much violence? It was a question heard often on Monday after such a jarring weekend.
In fact, violent crime in the U.S. has fallen sharply over the past quarter century — 49% between 1993 and 2017, according to the annual report by the FBI. That drop is backed up by a separate Bureau of Justice Statistics annual survey asking 90,000 American households if they experenced violent crime — either reported or unreported. The survey found that experienced crime fell 74% in those same years.
Yet most of us think crime is up. And it is if we're counting mass shootings.
The year 2018 was by far the most violent year ever measured for school shootings in the United States, and 2017 was the deadliest year in at least a half-century for gun deaths altogether in this country, with 40,000 people killed by guns. Nearly half were suicides.
But if we're talking about a mass shooting like the one in Virginia Beach where so many were killed, we hear more about it, so it's little wonder we feel overwhelmed — especially when we here in Chattanooga also have a shooting downtown near a festival venue and an officer shot in the parking lot of an all-night diner.
The United States is the only nation in the world estimated to have more guns than people, yet we still don't hear about all of the mass shootings — shootings in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot but not necessarily killed at the same general time and location. The Gun Violence Archive listed another mass shooting in Covina, California, on the same day as the Virginia Beach incident. And on the very next day, Saturday, there were five mass shootings: 22 people were wounded in two separate Chicago incidents, as well as one each in Atlanta; Macon, Georgia; and Allendale, South Carolina.
This year, 178 people have been killed and 617 wounded in 161 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive. That doesn't include Chattanooga's Market Street shooting or the Waffle House parking lot incident or myriad others across the country where the numbers wounded and killed did not reach four or more.
Yes, better gun laws are needed. Yes, gun registration is reasonable.
Would those things prevent a 14-year-old from shooting 13 years-olds or stop a snapped engineer from gunning down his colleagues for some unknown reason? Maybe, maybe not.
But in addition to insisting on sensible gun legislation (for instance, mental illness and domestic violence should preclude gun buys and possession), we must expect and demand that counseling and conflict resolution be standard fare in schools, workplaces, churches and homes.
In an April community forum about the causes of local violence, an 8-year-old Hardy Elementary second-grader named Keshun summed it up in the simplest language: "When they can't say it with their mouth, they say it with their fists or a gun."
To Hamilton County school leaders' credit, they have submitted a 2020 budget asking for an additional $34 million. Those extra millions include money to pay for 350 new positions, including 10 social workers, 10 special education teachers, 11 art teachers, 15 truancy officers, 14 school counselors, 9 principal/assistant principals, about 100 other teachers and about 100 education assistants.
But it's up to the rest of us — moms and dads, aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, neighbors, employers — to decide we will not be quiet and absent any longer. We have to make our elected leaders know we're serious about wanting fully funded mentoring, counseling and mental health programs, along with stronger gun safety laws, better parenting supports, equity in schools, jobs training and other resources that can change the trajectory of poverty, frustration, anger and cultural ignorance — here and in all America.