The shape of a gun is overlaid an image of an apple pie, apples and American flag ribbons.
Illustration by Teresa Tauchi

Mass shootings are an accepted part of national life. They are as American as apple pie.

I came to this belief while writing a column about gun violence in March 2021. 

Now, more than a year later, I don’t even remember what mass shooting sparked that original column. And who can blame me? It’s so hard to keep track.

The most recent major mass shootings occurred in May, in Buffalo, New York, where 10 Black people were killed at a grocery store by an avowed white supremacist. That was followed, 10 days later, by a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people, mostly young children, were gunned down. (On the Fourth of July, a gunman killed seven people and injured dozens more at a parade in Highland Park, Ill.)

I have to qualify those as major mass shootings — as redundant as that sounds — because hundreds of smaller, less covered mass shootings happen every year in the U.S. The majority of these occur in predominantly Black neighborhoods.

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 293 mass shootings in the U.S. as of June 27. That’s roughly keeping pace with the number of shootings through the first half of 2021, which ended with 610 mass shootings.

The number of mass shootings in the U.S. has more than doubled since the Gun Violence Archive began tracking them in 2014. That year, 272 mass shootings occurred.  

One hopeful bit of news did occur in late June. President Joe Biden signed what experts consider the most significant gun measure to emerge from Congress in nearly three decades, according to the New York Times. The highlights of the bill included expanding background check protocols for gun buyers younger than 21, as well as earmarking millions of dollars to fund state mental health programs.

I appreciated the newfound action, but still believe we must get at the root of our gun violence problem to see demonstrable change. 

But I am skeptical this change will occur.

When we consider the level of violence used to found, build and sustain the U.S. — from genocide of native populations and chattel slavery to the enduring systemic racism and oppression of today — it’s easier to understand why gun violence continues mostly unchecked. Many toxic ideas and policies are still ingrained in our country’s DNA and in its institutions of government.

Is there any real surprise that a country with more firearms than citizens — the only country in the world that can make that claim — is experiencing an epidemic of gun violence? 

I believe that until Americans are ready to be honest about our country’s history, and are willing to atone for its many crimes against humanity, the violence of our history will continue to repeat itself in new forms. 

I believe the violence, mass incarceration, police shootings of unarmed Black people and the growing income inequality gap are all physical manifestations of the original, still-infected wounds. 

If we are really tired of gun violence, we must reckon with our past to change our present so the future can be better. Until that happens, nothing will change.   

(Additional reporting by PJP)

Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.

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Shonari Warren

Shonari Warren is a writer incarcerated in Pennsylvania.