New Haven Register (New Haven, CT)

‘Don’t be numb to this’: Battling despair over gun deaths in America

- By Tim Sullivan and Carolyn Thompson Associated Press video journalist Robert Bumsted contribute­d to this story.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — 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 to death, along with her father and uncle. A few days after, in a Virginia classroom, a six-year-old boy pulled out a gun and shot his first-grade teacher. That news was eclipsed by a mass shooting at a California dance studio last weekend that left 11 people dead. A day later and a few hundred miles away, a farmworker opened fire in a beachside town, killing seven coworkers. Three more were killed and four wounded in a shooting at a short-term rental home in an an upscale Los Angeles neighborho­od early Saturday.

Just keeping track of all the shootings has become overwhelmi­ng, with the locations, circumstan­ces and the names of the victims running together into a seemingly endless trail of bloodshed and grief.

And many Americans are deeply pessimisti­c that anything will soon change. When President Joe Biden signed a bill last year to fight gun violence — the first such measure to pass Congress in a generation — a substantia­l majority supported it. But 78% said they believed it would do little or nothing at all, a survey by the Pew Research Center found.

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

“I don't think anybody feels good about where we are at — even gun enthusiast­s,” he said.

But if all that might make you think America has gone numb to gun violence, Zeneta Everhart would disagree. Fiercely.

Everhart's then-19-yearold son, Zaire, was working his part-time job at a Buffalo supermarke­t last May when a gunman stormed in, looking for Black people to kill. Ten died in the attack. Zaire was shot in the neck but survived.

“I don't think that the country is becoming numb to it, but I think that the country is frustrated,” she said. “I think that people are tired.”

“You know, we don't want to hear about this. We don't want to hear about our children dying by 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 stem the violence.

The month after the supermarke­t shooting, she and other victims' relatives went to Washington, D.C., testifying before a House committee about the need for gun safety legislatio­n. Two weeks later, Biden signed the gun violence bill.

That success, and her son's continuing recovery, keep her energized.

But in a country where attitudes about guns and violence are often contradict­ory, charting a course of action makes for uneasy 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 it is also highly important to protect Americans' right to own guns for personal safety.

Last year's gun violence law was designed to incrementa­lly toughen requiremen­ts for young people to buy guns, deny firearms to more domestic abusers and help local authoritie­s temporaril­y take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. Most of its $13 billion cost would go to bolster mental health programs and for schools.

This year, though, the number of shooting deaths are already deeply discouragi­ng.

The nation's first mass shooting last year happened on Jan 23. By the same date this year, the nation had already endured six mass shootings, leaving 39 people dead, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeaste­rn University. It tracks every attack in the U.S. that has claimed at least four lives, not including the shooter's, since 2006.

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