The least accurate pontification about the Highland Park, Ill., massacre is that it was somehow made worse by the fact that it happened on Independence Day, as a small town celebrated its version of Americana.
I heard this multiple times from various pundits across networks including CNN and MSNBC during a five-hour road trip across the PA Turnpike. Every time, I thought the same thing: they couldn’t be more wrong. A Fourth of July mass shooting isn’t antithetical to a holiday commemorating this country’s birth and culture. In 2022, mass shooting is as apropos a marker of the Fourth of July as fireworks and cookouts with drunk uncles who failed high school civics but love arguments about politics. At this point, we treat mass murder with military-grade weapons more like violent thunderstorms—scary but mostly unavoidable—than intolerable crises, and as such, it’s baked intractably into whatever passed for American culture.
The only thing more American than a white male with a history of questionable social media posts unloading an AR-15 bought with his daddy’s money on a crowd of innocents would be for cops to take that guy into custody peacefully, and for all of this to unfold in the same week that cops elsewhere killed a Black man who hadn’t harmed anyone in a hail of 60 bullets and then handcuff his corpse where it laid. This being the country we live in, all those things happened in the same week folks celebrated the country’s bornday.
Birthday gifts aren’t always pleasant, well-intended or received. They’re not, to paraphrase a certain American document, all created equal. Some are given in love and intended to make the receiver joyous, comfortable or nostalgic. Others reflect dysfunctional relationship dynamics, like an absentee parent handing a child a gift card because they don’t know the kid well enough to figure out something better.
The Supreme Court and Congress are our absentee parents, showing up late to the birthday party with a $25 Rush Card instead of something we wanted or could actually use. After dozens of desecrated bodies were interred in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa and Laguna Woods, the country needed legislation that included stronger background checks, a ban on assault weapons or at least a higher minimum age to buy one. Congress passed a law that included neither, despite the fact that, if you listen to polls, most of the country wanted them to go harder for gun control.
Not to be outdone by the other deadbeat parent, the Supreme Court followed up by rebuking states whose legislatures had already enacted their own gun control measures. In New York State specifically, the gun law that the Court ruled unconstitutional had survived for more than 100 years. That’s also the state where a white supremacist took a legally purchased assault rifle into a grocery store to slaughter unarmed Black people and where a maniac with a long criminal history allegedly boarded a crowded subway train in Brooklyn and emptied a handgun on its load of passengers. Happy Birthday, kid!
By this weekend, when the burials start for the seven (so far) people killed in Highland Park, talk about how they died and how to possibly prevent it from happening again will already be exiting the news cycle. It’s entirely possible another mass shooting will happen between now and then and almost certain we won’t get out of this month without another one.