And as a society, we should continue to be defined by what we are willing to accept as a normal condition of American life.
On Sunday, after 30 people were shot at a gathering in south Baltimore, Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) raised this explicitly, saying: “We want this mass shooting to be treated just as [if] it happened in rural America.”
“When it happens in Baltimore, Chicago or D.C., it doesn’t get that same attention,” Scott said Monday. “These Black American lives, children’s lives, matter just as anyone else.”
The barrage of gunfire was a gut-wrenching end to an annual community day in a working-class part of Baltimore, one of America’s cities where gunfire is not uncommon — and too often labeled “urban” in an attempt to distance people from accountability for the conditions we allowed over decades of policy decisions.
“We are not free if we are in a war zone,” pastor John D. Watts said after gunfire terrorized Baltimore’s Brooklyn neighborhood where his congregation often works. The shooting left an 18-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man dead.
So on this Independence Day, it’s time to talk about our freedoms — and the lack thereof.
Watts and other folks from Kingdom Life Church Apostolic have been coming to Brooklyn Homes for about three years now, to talk with people who are struggling, to mentor young men who feel left behind as gleaming developments grow around their neighborhood but never in it.
An entire block was littered with bullet casings Sunday, and many of the neighbors who usually sit on their porches were locked inside, living with a fear they have grown used to. Baltimore police, Scott said, have seized 1,345 illegal guns so far this year.
The freedom from that fear is becoming rare in all corners of the nation.
Because today, the places where innocent people are hit by gunfire are spreading past barriers of economics, politics, race and class. To so many places, we look like a nation at war.
In America, under the tyranny of a culture that celebrates gun ownership over the unburdened pursuit of happiness, we are no longer free to feel safe:
— At a country music concert (Las Vegas, Oct. 1, 2017; 62 dead, 413 injured)
— At a Fourth of July parade (Highland Park, Ill., July 4, 2022; seven dead, 48 injured)
— In a grocery store (Buffalo, May 14, 2022; 10 dead, three injured)
— In a dance hall (Monterey Park, Calif., Jan. 21, 2023; 11 dead, nine injured)
— At a newspaper office (Annapolis, June 28, 2018; five dead, two injured)
— In a church (Sutherland Springs, Tex., Nov. 5. 2017; 26 dead, 22 injured)
— In a synagogue (Pittsburgh, Oct. 27, 2018; 11 dead, six injured)
— At a nightclub (Orlando, June 12, 2016; 49 dead, 53 injured)
And of course we are not free from atrocity at schools, airports, military bases, movie theaters, restaurants, hospitals, swimming pools, medical offices or even someone’s driveway that we may have accidentally pulled into.
Among the saddest — and most accurate — graduation memes I’ve seen circulating on social media is a photoshopped celebration titled “When you finally graduate from high school in the USA,” with kids throwing Kevlar vests instead of mortarboards into the air.
Hold on to that body armor, kids. America outside the classroom isn’t much safer. Just last month, after all, a high school graduate and his father were killed and five others were wounded by a shooter who opened fire at a commencement ceremony in Richmond.
We have absolutely failed the vision of our Founding Fathers for a peaceful, safe and prosperous nation if we’re willing to apply rules conceived of when a breakaway people in revolt deployed muskets, flintlock pistols and hunting rifles to today, when high-tech killing machines can be bought with ease.
This is played out in Maryland, where concealed-carry permits — and the number of guns — tripled following a Supreme Court ruling last year expanding the Second Amendment.
“More permits means more guns out in public, and that means more guns left in cars, and that means more guns subject to theft,” state Sen. William C. Smith Jr. (D-Montgomery) told my colleague Erin Cox. “There’s just going to be more guns … around. That’s just a fact.”
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed laws in May restricting gun carrying to try to counteract that, but the National Rifle Association immediately challenged those laws in federal court. Baltimore itself last year filed suit against a maker of untraceable parts used to build “ghost” guns.
It’s political and policy gamesmanship fought with manipulation and maneuvers, but the real losses come in bloodshed and tears every day, in every state of the nation.
And it’s the people who live in neighborhoods too often racked by gunfire who pay the price for a nation’s failure to address real problems.
“The support of all the people is important,” said Watts, whose congregation continues ministering in Baltimore’s Brooklyn area. “But they are afraid.”
And we should be ashamed.