The recent shooting of 13 innocent victims in Buffalo demands reflection and reaction, cries out for mourning, and a search for meaning. Although the racist motive seems abundantly clear, the fact that a crazed gunman was on a killing spree in a neighborhood supermarket on an otherwise lazy Saturday afternoon, and that he live-streamed his venomous crime, actually watched by so many, makes the heartlessness and culpability of his actions unfathomably sickening, and not his alone.
As the well-respected civil rights attorney Ben Crump sees it: “Politicians who are trying to use fear to stimulate their base…to help get cable news ratings…[are] accomplices to this mass murder…even though they did not pull the trigger, they loaded the gun.” Yet, there is still more guilt to go around. It seems that it’s not enough to just do the killing. No, the message here is that a hate-filled rampage like this must also serve to motivate others—to glorify, to justify and to make noble their deranged cause. And as the killer your public demeanor is also very important: show no signs of regret or remorse. Own the moment and hope others will want to adopt the same bloodlust hatred.
New York State has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, including the controversial “red flag law” enacted in 2019 to prevent persons considered dangerous to themselves and to others as unfit to legally purchase guns. But guns are purchased outside of this state and brought here. Without stricter national gun laws, and the elimination of various loopholes in existing laws, it will be impossible to control guns; they still will get into the wrong hands.
Although this latest killing spree was done with a legally purchased rifle—an AR-15 known to be used by soldiers at war, like those currently fighting in Ukraine—the rise in illegal “ghost” guns also presents a huge threat to innocent bystanders.
The number of shootings has nearly doubled in New York City since before the pandemic. Read the headlines: students walking and talking on their way home from school; children watching a video and eating their chicken dinner in the back of their aunt’s car; an infant in a car seat next to her mother while dad stops at a bodega for milk; and a Chinese food delivery man shot because he didn’t bring enough duck sauce. These are among the many innocent people recently killed or injured in our city, their dreams tattered, their families destroyed. Ghost guns were the weapons involved, but they are not the only factor that caused the pain. “Not the intended target” is the usual defense, but even if this is true, the questions remain: why were you carrying a weapon designed to inflict deadly destruction, not just retribution? And, when you pulled the trigger, did you think about possibly hitting the wrong person? Feel any pain? Have empathy for hitting the wrong person?
A last question should be asked, this directed to our lawmakers, as the essence of Ben Crumb’s position on culpability: did the perpetrator fear the consequences if they were to be apprehended and tried for their actions?
As a legislator, you didn’t instigate the gunman with coded rhetoric or encourage the use of social media as a provocative means of gaining followers. But without enacting laws in which the punishment truly fits the crime, such as in the case of possessing a ghost gun, that result in mandatory incarceration—even while taking into consideration the perpetrator’s age—guns, whether legally or illegally obtained, will be loaded by accomplices who did something worse than pulling the trigger. They did nothing!