Tragedies like these have seem to have become a weekly occurrence. We are so desensitized to violence now that we are not as shocked as we all should be when more lives are ended by senseless gun violence:
As throngs of patrons strolled and browsed at the Mall in Columbia on a gray, cold Saturday, shotgun blasts rang out and bodies fell as a familiar tragedy — homicidal lunacy in a crowded public place — brought terror to a suburban Maryland shopping complex.
It happened just after 11 a.m., about 25 miles northeast of Washington [D.C.]. A gunman opened fire on the mall’s second level, killing two employees of Zumiez, a clothing store for skateboarders and snowboarders, Howard County police said.
Minutes later, when officers arrived, they found the shooter dead of an apparently self-inflicted wound.
No home, workplace, church, school, mall, or gathering place is safe in a society where people who should not possess a firearm can easily get one and unleash terror on a community like Columbia, Maryland.
Other countries have imposed sensible restrictions, including universal background checks, on gun sales and gun ownership. We haven’t, partly because politically powerful pro-gun organizations like the NRA oppose taking any steps that would make safe firearms ownership a strict norm in our society, as opposed to just best practices that gun manufacturers, gun dealers, and gun owners are free to ignore.
The NRA and their ilk speak about the Second Amendment with such reverence, it makes us wonder if they are at all acquainted with the First. Or the Declaration of Independence, in which our founders talked about the inherent and unalienable rights, chiefly the preservation of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Zumiez employees Brianna Benlolo and Tyler Johnson no longer have their lives, their liberty, or the chance to be happy. They were killed in the blink of an eye by bullets fired from the gun of a deranged individual who ultimately turned his gun on himself after firing on them and others. Both Brianna and Tyler were in their twenties. Both had so much to look forward to, and to do.
Tragically, now they’re gone. Their families will deal with the pain of their slaying for the rest of their lives, like the families of the Aurora and Newtown massacres, or the Oak Creek and Tucson shootings, or the thousands of other victims of gun violence over the last decade. Things are getting worse, not better, as NPR reported a few days ago: there has been a sharp rise in the number of mass shootings in the United States since Barack Obama and Joe Biden were elected.
The President and Vice President are among those who wants to take action, but the very sensible and extremely basic reforms they have proposed at the federal level have been stymied by our current do-nothing Congress, particularly House and Senate Republicans, who refuse to disobey their NRA masters.
This failure to act is unacceptable, and we ought to be vocal in letting our elected leaders know that the status quo is untenable. Here in Washington, we have an opportunity to make change for the better by passing Initiative 594, which would require universal background checks on gun sales. I‑594 was certified by the Secretary of State this past week and is now before the Legislature. We urge the House and the Senate to pass it straightaway, and to reject its evil cousin, I‑591, which is backed by the uncompromising gun lobby and zealous gun enthusiasts.
We send our deepest condolences to the families of Brianna and Tyler in the wake of today’s tragedy, as well as to longtime NPI supporter Tom Campion, cofounder and chairman of Zumiez, Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks, and all Zumiez employees, particularly those who worked with Brianna and Tyler at the Columbia, Maryland store.
All of them will be in our thoughts and prayers tonight and in the days to come.