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Opinion: America's weekend of terror

August 5, 2019

Nearly 30 people have been shot dead in El Paso and Dayton. Don't expect the violence to end — the US won't tighten its gun laws, and the president continues to sow hatred, says DW Washington correspondent Carla Bleiker.

Mourners take part in a vigil at El Paso High School after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, on August 3, 2019.
Image: Reuters/J. Luis Gonzalez

At least 20 dead in El Paso, Texas. At least 9 dead in Dayton, Ohio. Nearly 30 people were killed in two separate shootings in the space of 14 hours, making this one of the bloodiest weekends in recent US history. Many more were injured and are still being treated in hospital. This comes after three people were shot last Sunday at a food festival in Gilroy, California, making a total of 32 victims of gun violence in just one week.

In the wake of the El Paso shooting, US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that he sends his "heartfelt thoughts and prayers" to the people of Texas. Sending "thoughts and prayers" to those affected has become politicians' stock response every time there's another mass shooting in the United States. It's supposed to be a nice gesture, but it doesn't really achieve anything.

Perhaps the president should instead consider the fact that El Paso police found an online manifesto believed to have been posted by the 21-year-old suspect. In it, the author unloads about his hatred of immigrants, saying he's against "the Hispanic invasion of Texas."

President Trump has also described the immigration from Central America as an "invasion." He doesn't hide the fact that he doesn't want migrants in the United States. Trump would even like to send some nonwhite members of Congress who were born in the United States or who have become US citizens "back to where they came from."

Statements like these from the person who holds the highest office in the land have the effect of making hatred and xenophobia socially acceptable. When it leads to violence, as it did in El Paso this weekend, the president cannot completely deny some responsibility for what happened.

DW Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker is DW's Washington correspondentImage: privat

Tougher gun laws needed

The "thoughts and prayers" politicians have expressed after the attacks in El Paso and Dayton are also a way to avoid taking political action. What the United States really needs is tougher weapons legislation. The shooter in Dayton went out with an assault rifle and lots of additional magazines. It's easy to get weapons of this kind, along with the ammunition, in the United States — at so-called "gun shows," for example. Had the police not arrived less than a minute after the shooting began, the attacker could have killed hundreds of people.

Every time there's another attack, there are renewed calls for the introduction of a firearms license, a universal background check, and other, stricter laws. That was what happened in 2012, after 20 children aged between 6 and 7 and six adults were shot dead at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut. It happened after a shooter killed 58 people at a concert in Las Vegas almost two years ago. And it happened after a killer shot 17 pupils and teachers at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day 2018. In response, young people from Parkland started a protest movement. Tens of thousands of people participated in the "March for Our Lives" last year in Washington, D.C.

But the US gun lobby, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), has too much power and too much money for these voices to prevail. After the El Paso shooting, the Republican governor of Texas didn't talk about gun control; instead, he said that the perpetrator may have been mentally ill (there's no evidence so far to suggest this) and that there was a "need for the state and for society to do a better job of dealing with challenging mental health-based issues."

But there are people with mental health problems in other countries, too. And yet nowhere are so many men, women and children shot as in the United States. Until politicians finally dissociate themselves from the NRA and other powerful gun lobbyists and bring in tougher gun laws, people will continue to be shot and killed across the country.

Carla Bleiker
Carla Bleiker Editor, channel manager and reporter focusing on US politics and science@cbleiker