Gun violence isn't slowing down in America. So far this year, the US has seen at least 130 mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks shootings in the US. The month of January this year had more mass shootings than in the previous five Januarys, dating back to 2018. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as an incident where four or more people are shot, not including the shooter.
Gun violence is a contemporary global human rights issue. Anyone can be affected by firearm violence worldwide, but the rising trend of gun-related injuries in several states provides an alarming situation in the USA. The country is witnessing a surge in gun violence as the gun purchase rate has reached its highest level in 2020 and 2021. There have been more mass shootings than days so far in 2022; a trend that has continued each year since 2019. This year is likely to be the second-highest year for mass shootings in the United States on record, according to data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive. Yet governmental bodies in the United States are ignoring the connection between gun violence and violation of human rights, resulting in more casualties each year.
So far in 2023, the Archive recorded 9,998 deaths related to gun violence. In 2022, the Gun Violence Archive recorded 647 mass shootings and 44,287 total deaths from gun violence. The United States is the only country in the world where there are more civilian guns than there are people, according to the Small Arms Survey (SAS), a Swiss research project. SAS reports that there are 120 guns for every 100 Americans.
While mass killings in the United States are usually perpetrated by men, uncertainty shook the American media on Monday, March 27, when it came to defining Audrey Hale. This 28-year-old was born female according to the police but defined himself using he/him pronouns on his LinkedIn page. Hale entered the Covenant School, a Presbyterian school located in the south of Nashville, Tennessee, on the morning of March 27. Equipped with an assault rifle, an automatic weapon and a handgun, the assailant killed three adults, including the principal, and three 9-year-old children, before police shot him dead.
A patrol responded quickly after being alerted by the school. The shooting took place on the second floor of the institution, which has about 200 children, from preschool to sixth grade. The schoolchildren were evacuated by bus and taken to a nearby church to meet their frightened parents.
According to Nashville Police Chief John Drake, the perpetrator was a graphic designer by training who "does identify as transgender." But the authorities' vagueness about this identity issue, and its possible importance in his criminal motives, has opened the door to speculation and political instrumentalization, to the detriment of the core issue: his weapons. Hale left a manifesto, written in the hours before his premeditated attack, and planned to commit a much larger carnage. He had a map of the school, showing the different access points. He also considered another target, but security at the school led him to abandon this plan. Two of his three weapons were legally acquired, according to investigators, who found no known criminal record.
Hale entered the building by shooting at a front door, then proceeded without encountering a security guard, which the school apparently did not have. According to the police, Hale, who lives in Nashville, attended the Covenant School on dates not yet specified. This may have fueled "resentment" against the school, said Drake. His car was found nearby.
On Monday, Joe Biden spoke with weariness in his voice before a speech on female entrepreneurship. "I've been to so many of these sites," he said with a sigh, adding that the killings are "ripping the soul of this nation." The American president once again questioned the inaction of Republicans in Congress, calling on them to adopt a ban on military-style weapons. They had been banned since 1993 before the legislation expired in 2004. Today, according to a startling Washington Post survey released Monday, nearly one in 20 adults – or about 16 million Americans – own at least one AR-15, the weapon used in 10 of the 17 bloodiest killings since 2012. "It's a culture that's killing us," Shannon Watts, founder of the organization Moms Demand Action, told MSNBC.
Another school shooting has left children and adults dead, this time in Nashville. Shake your head and move on to the next headline, for this is America, where the routine nature of gun violence, including in places that are supposed to be havens for the young and vulnerable, has us trapped in an excruciating perpetual loop.
Monday at the Covenant School, a Christian academy serving preschoolers through sixth graders, a 28-year-old wielding two high-powered rifles and a handgun shot dead three children and three staff members. It is a curiosity in this case that the gunman was a gunwoman. Ninety-eight percent of mass shootings are perpetrated by males.
But it’s not the least bit surprising that this happened in a nation where guns are incredibly easy to come by, and in a state where one can carry just about any type of gun just about anywhere. Since 2018, American schoolchildren have suffered 157 shootings on school grounds that resulted in injuries or deaths. So far this year, the grim count is 13.
A child weeps while on the bus leaving The Covenant School following a mass shooting at the school in Nashville, Tenn., Monday, March 27, 2023. (Nicole Hester/AP)
Every outburst of gunfire in a place where children are supposed to be nurtured and educated produces ripples of pain far beyond those wounded and murdered. The Washington Post estimates that nearly 300,000 students have experienced school gun violence since the Columbine massacre in 1999.
The nation will learn more about what motivated this killer — whether ideology or madness or anger or, likelier, some combination of the three. It will learn more about the actions of the police and other protectors; at first blush, they performed admirably. To adapt Leo Tolstoy’s observation on happy and unhappy families, every tragic incident is tragic in its own way.
But what links all tragic incidents here — the school shootings; the 129 mass shootings so far this year in the United States; the 40,000-plus gun deaths, mostly homicides and suicides, that are a deadly daily drumbeat — is ready access to firearms and ammunition and a culture that celebrates violence. Until those two overpowering variables change, nothing else will.
The USA must maximize the protection of human rights, creating the safest possible environment for most people, especially those considered to be at the greatest risk. If a state does not exercise adequate control over the possession and use of firearms in the face of persistent gun violence, this could amount to a breach of its obligations under international human rights law. It is yet to make a very progressive decision regarding stricter laws. So, the US should focus on its domestic condition while promoting the very same policy in its human rights and foreign policy.
Taslima Hyat. a freelance journalist and researcher