The rapid bursts of a high-powered rifle brought the chilling reality that no one can be sure they are safe, anywhere, to one of the nation’s most unifying gatherings.
Detritus strewn at the scene, a lone shoe, discarded backpacks, upturned camping chairs and empty strollers did not just tell the story of the hurried panic of those who fled for their lives. It reflected yet another scene of normality shattered by a mass shooting. In this case, six people who simply went out to celebrate America on its birthday are dead. More than two dozen — aged 8 to 85, according to doctors — are injured.
“It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “A day dedicated to freedom has put into stark relief the one freedom we, as a nation, refuse to uphold: The freedom of our fellow citizens to live without the daily fear of gun violence.”
Shocked residents relate a day of terror
Still, residents of the affluent, largely White suburb with a thriving Jewish community expressed shock that such horror visited their town.
This was “just inconceivable in a community like Highland Park,” Jeff Leon, an eye witness who at first thought the pops of the rifle were July Fourth fireworks, told CNN.
Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider, who represents Illinois’ 10th Congressional District, expressed similar disbelief. “No one thinks that this could happen in our community, but that is true across the country,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins. And Dr. Brigham Temple, medical director of emergency preparedness for NorthShore University HealthSystem, told reporters: “It is a little surreal to have to take care of an event such as this.”
Gun violence is hardly new in American society. But the proliferation of deadly weapons is now forcing people everywhere in the United States to face worries long endured by those familiar with the horrific toll of firearms in cities.
It’s gotten nowhere near as much coverage. But the high-profile shootings in Uvalde and Highland Park, for instance, are taking place against a backdrop of incessant killings elsewhere.
And it’s only July.
The politics of gun control
The suspect, Robert E. Crimo III, has been taken into custody near Lake Forest, Illinois, authorities said during a brief news conference Monday night after an hours-long manhunt.
Sgt. Chris Covelli, of the Lake County Major Crime Task Force, said earlier in the day that the firearm used in shooting was a “high powered rifle” but declined to give further details. If that is borne out, it would just be the latest occasion when a weapon with the capacity to quickly fire multiple rounds with deadly effect has been used in a mass shooting.
The July Fourth holiday meant that there was little immediate political reaction to Monday’s mass killing from Republicans, even as Democrats such as Vice President Kamala Harris and Pritzker demanded more gun restrictions.
The rituals of America’s incessant mass shootings will likely now see Republicans try to point to other factors besides the availability of guns. It’s true that most gun owners in America are law-abiding. But logic suggests that America’s massive proliferation of guns compared with other nations and the high incidence of mass killings are linked. And it’s clear that more people having guns — what the National Rifle Association would call “good guys with guns” — isn’t stopping all of these killings.
Second Amendment activists insist that the right to own high-powered weapons is within every American’s rights to bear arms. And the conservative US Supreme Court majority is setting about loosening existing gun restrictions. All of which suggests that Monday’s shooting will result in no action that makes America safer. The heavy lift in passing even the limited gun safety legislation last month suggests that a gridlocked political system has already done as much as it can bear.
Yet each recent mass shooting poses the same questions, which are especially acute on a day that America celebrates its freedoms.
Why do the rights of those who insist they have the constitutional blessing to own such deadly weapons outweigh the right of others to life — especially since a majority of Americans support more comprehensive gun control? And why, for instance, should moms, dads, kids or grandparents have to so often run for their lives?
“It can happen any place,” Miles Zaremski, who witnessed the shooting in Highland Park, told CNN on Monday afternoon. “I’ve been around many years on this planet and what I observed shook me to the core.”
“If it can happen on July 4, in a peaceful law-abiding community that we have in Highland Park … it can happen any place.”