Opinion: How Inaction Normalized Both Mass Shootings and Gun Violence In Black Communities

A common denominator exists when discussing something that happens so often that people don’t even notice.

Sad as it is to admit, I’m in my 40s and I can’t remember a time in my life when gun violence in Black communities wasn’t a thing I didn’t have to worry about.

As a born-and-raised Detroiter, the notion of not visiting a certain neighborhood or gas station at a certain hour was as ingrained in me as my mother’s insistence on cleaning my dinner plate thoroughly before placing it in the dishwasher. It’s why I activate my “sixth sense” anytime I visit unfamiliar cities: If I can see the effects of systemic negligence on an environment, I know to keep my head on a swivel.

For much longer than I’ve been breathing, America has turned a blind eye to improving such landscapes (while somehow finding billions of dollars to support European countries at war). It's all frustratingly normal – as American as apple pie and the rich, gated communities that stand in sharp contrast to our hoods.

Another distinctly, yet sinister American institution is starting to creep toward a similar normalcy: the mass shooting.

While there’s no consensus on what constitutes a mass shooting, the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive defines it as a shooting in which at least four people are killed or injured; given that metric, we’ve had more than 160 mass shootings already this year.

As of press time, it’s been one week since Connor Sturgeon turned on a live stream and opened fire at his job, a bank in Louisville, Ky., killing five and injuring eight before being killed by police. Ten days earlier and one state over, Aiden Hale opened fire at the private Covenant School in Nashville, claiming the lives of six, including three 9-year-olds, before being killed by police.

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A Saturday (April 15) shooting at a birthday party in Dadeville, Ala., claimed four lives and injured 28 others. Because, apparently, I can’t finish writing a piece on mass shootings in America without one happening mid-draft.

That’s three mass shootings in 20 days. Yet, my news cycle and social media timeline on Monday is largely filled with responses to Netflix bungling its “Love is Blind” live reunion special.

In contrast, the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 had the nation in a vise grip for quite some time, largely because the idea of someone entering a school to murder minors was novel enough at the time to frighten and enrage the country. The 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children, gave us pause for a while, as did the 2017 Las Vegas shooting, when Stephen Paddock managed to smuggle a small arsenal in the Mandalay Bay to murder 60 festival goers and harm hundreds more.

Most of these other mass shootings seem to leave the news cycle inside of a week, if they made it there it all. I’d wager that, unless it’s your job to do so, you don’t know about several recent mass shootings, and you’ve probably forgotten about a few you did know about.  You aren’t alone: mental health professionals suggest that we’ve hit a point of collective numbness when it comes to the violence of mass shootings.

It’s not that we’re apathetic, but we’re protecting ourselves emotionally by coming to grips with existing in a country in which our children could be murdered during a routine trip to Target.

Sound familiar?

There’s a common denominator when discussing urban gun violence and mass shootings: Apathy and inaction from a government ostensibly designed to protect us; lawmakers who have the power and resources to move the needle in the right direction but choose not to.

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Plenty of books and essays have been written on the systemic and often byzantine structures that beget violent environments in Black and brown communities, but much of it boils down to the confluence of the wealth gap, housing inequality and good old-fashioned I’m-crossing-the-street-clutching-my-bag racist fear.

Your average conservative white Republican (and their cheerleader Candace Owens) dedicates YouTube channels and entire political campaigns to convince folks that the denizens of these cities and neighborhoods are all lazy and shiftless, and that the violence is all their fault…if only they dropped their guns and enrolled in college.

It's like cooking gumbo and blaming the shrimp for not making it out alive.

Mass shootings are the other side of the same coin: Constitutional originalists (read: right-wing Republicans) seek to make firearms easier for citizens to own while conveniently disregarding the fact that the Second Amendment was created when the only option was a one-shot musket, not AR-15 rifles with bump stocks that can let off hundreds of rounds a minute.

Given that we know the AR-15, or some variation of it, is used in the majority of mass shootings, legislation across the country (largely in red states) still stubbornly strives to make it easier to obtain these weapons, even in states that have suffered mass shootings.

The 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994 caused a 70 percent drop in mass shooting deaths – we have correlative proof, but the National Rifle Association and the gun lobby is so insidious that a weapon that truly belongs in no civilian hands is easier to purchase than certain medicines.

I’m fresh out of optimism when it comes to fixing the hoods – White supremacy is so firmly entrenched in our country that we can only rely on elected local government to maybe mitigate some of these issues. The foolishness with gun laws is much easier to fix…it only requires lawmakers to stop being greedy bastards and apply common sense and a bit of empathy.

All it takes is a few signatures to slow the path toward mass shooting normalcy. Until that happens, expect the next unhinged person with a legally purchased weapon to trigger another national tragedy.

And expect the masses to respond with a collective shrug.

Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at

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