“Don’t Be Deaf”: Fighting the Despair of Gun Death

Increasingly, it feels like America is at war with itself.

In New Orleans, just days into the New Year, a 14-year-old girl was shot dead along with her father and uncle. A few days later, in a Virginia classroom, a 6-year-old boy pulled out a gun and shot his elementary school teacher. This news was overshadowed by a mass shooting at a California dance studio last weekend that left 11 dead. A day later and a few hundred miles away, a farm worker opened fire in a coastal town, killing seven fellow workers. Three others were killed and four injured in a shooting at a short-term rental home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood early Saturday.

It’s overwhelming to keep track of all the shootings, with the locations, circumstances and the names of the victims, all adding up in a seemingly endless trail of bloodshed and grief.

And many Americans are deeply pessimistic that things are about to change. When President Joe Biden signed a gun violence bill last year — the first such measure passed by Congress in a generation — it was supported by a sizeable majority. But 78% said they believe it would do little or nothing, a Pew Research Center poll found.

The sheer number of killings and the frigid pace of the political response “create a sense of powerlessness and despair,” said Pedro Noguera, dean of the School of Education at the University of Southern California and a sociologist who has studied gun violence more than two decades .

“I don’t think anyone, even gun lovers, is comfortable with where we are,” he said.

But if all of this led you to believe that America is deadened on gun violence, Zeneta Everhart would disagree. Violent.

Everhart’s then 19-year-old son Zaire was working a part-time job at a Buffalo grocery store last May when a gunman burst in looking for black people to kill. Ten died in the attack. Zaire was shot in the neck but survived.

“I don’t think the country is turning a deaf ear to this, but I think the country is frustrated,” she said. “I think people are tired.”

“You know, we don’t want to hear about that. We don’t want to hear about our children dying from gun violence, and we don’t want to hear about our seniors who were killed in the California studio attack. “How awful. How heartbreaking.”

But that makes Everhart and others even more determined to find ways to curb the violence.

A month after the supermarket shooting, she and families of other victims traveled to Washington, DC to testify before a House committee on the need for gun safety legislation. Two weeks later, Biden signed the Gun Violence Act into law.

This success and her son’s continued recovery give her energy.

But in a country where attitudes toward guns and violence are often contradictory, planning a course of action is an uncomfortable calculus.

Overall, 71% of Americans say gun laws should be stricter, according to a 2022 poll by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But in the same poll, 52% said so that it is also very important to protect Americans’ right to own guns for personal safety.

Last year’s Gun Violence Act was designed to gradually tighten requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms to more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take guns away from people deemed dangerous. Most of the $13 billion in costs would go to strengthening mental health programs and schools.

This year, however, the number of deaths from shootings is already deeply discouraging.

The nation’s first mass shooting last year took place on January 23. By the same date this year, the nation had already suffered six mass shootings that killed 39 people, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. It tracks every attack in the US that has claimed at least four lives since 2006, not including the shooter.

“Unfortunately, I think we’ve become immune to that,” said Mark Gius, a professor at Quinnipiac College who studies gun violence and public policy. “It has become a part of life.”

Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime was killed when a gunman swept through a high school in Parkland, Fla. in 2018, knows only too well how overwhelming the violence can be.

The immediate instinct for those shootings, he said, is to think, “Here we go again.” But it doesn’t end there.

“It’s not that Americans don’t care. We let it go too far,” he said. “America is watching. People are more engaged with this topic than ever before.”

For years he has been pushing in Congress and Florida for a law called “Jaime’s Law” that would require people buying ammunition to undergo the same background checks required to buy a gun. The bills kept stalling, but he doesn’t give up.

While mass killings like Parkland have garnered much attention, more than half of the roughly 45,000 gun deaths in America have been attributed to suicide.

In the vast majority of gun killings, only one or two people die. Many of these deaths go unnoticed, apart from the authorities and the bereaved.

“That’s the sad thing,” said USC’s Noguera. “You have to be almost directly affected to understand how dangerous the situation is right now.”

It has created a situation where even people who detest guns can wonder if they should buy one.

“That’s understandable,” he said. “People think: If the state can’t protect us, we have to protect ourselves.”

Eight months after the attack on the Buffalo supermarket, doctors were still unable to remove all of the bullet fragments that were inside Everhart’s son’s body, some of them dangerously close to vital organs. But its survival motivates her to keep pressing the government for change, and urges others not to give up the fight if they hear of another shooting.

“Don’t be deaf,” she said. “That should hurt you. You should feel something.”