How many? How many more must be killed before we act?

This past April 20 marked 20 years since two teen-aged students of Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, went on a shooting spree. The pair killed 13 people and wounded more than 20 others before successfully turning their guns on themselves. The rampage was, at the time, the worst school shooting in U.S. history.

At the time, a stunned nation vowed that there would never be another school massacre. Sadly, we were unable — perhaps unwilling — to hold to that promise.

During the passing years, with each new shooting, we offered our thoughts and prayers. Each time we promised, “this will be — this must be — the last time.”

On Dec. 14, 2012, as folks prepared for the holidays, a lone gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn. He killed 20 first and second grade pupils, six adults and then himself. We were all horrified. Small children’s lives snuffed out and right at the Christmas and Hanukkah seasons. Instead of lighting candles and trees in a celebration of life, families were mourning as they buried their small children. Doubtless, they are still suffering irreparable grief. We, as a nation, mourned and after Sandy Hook we proclaimed, “Never again! Never again will we permit such tragedy to befall our nation, particularly our schools.” We proclaimed that it was our job to protect the smallest among us. After all, we saw ourselves as the most powerful nation on the planet. Surely, we could protect our children.

Indeed, I had the same thoughts. I knew that not only should we protect our offspring, but I was confident we would, as were many of my friends and acquaintances.

Days wore on. Holidays came and went. We did the unthinkable. We forgot about the tykes who were murdered that bleak December morning. Of course, there were some efforts to enact gun law reform, but with no real results.

On Feb. 14, 2018, a 19-year-old gunman, using a semi-automatic rifle, opened fire on students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Fla. He killed 17 students and staff members and injured 17 more. The Parkland shooting followed two mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, and in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in October and November 2017, respectively. Each time we offered our prayers and condolences. We promised to at least study the issue; at moments we aimed to reform gun legislation. Always, we failed.

Actually, according to an NPR report, “The U.S. once had a prohibition on assault weapons — but Congress allowed that 10-year old ban to lapse in 2004, at the urging of the National Rifle Association and against the wishes of several national police organizations. That ban and other potential gun control measures are now back in the spotlight,” — after the weekend of mass shootings. -NPR, Aug. 5.

It was in the wee hours of Sunday morning, Aug. 4, when a 24-year-old gunman opened fire in a popular nightspot in Dayton, Ohio. He killed nine.

Thirteen hours earlier, on Saturday, Aug. 3, a 21-year-old gunman had opened fire at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. He killed 22. The El Paso shooter appeared to be motivated by a belief in white supremacy. He is in police custody in Texas where he is being charged with domestic terrorism.

It is about time we realized that many — not all, but many — of these mass shootings are, in fact, motivated by fear of and hatred for groups who are different from the shooters’. In effect, these domestic terrorists are functioning in much the same way and drawing on the same types of emotions as radical foreign terrorists. Unfortunately, over the last few years, there seems to be an increase, in our nation, in the number of shooters who are driven by extremism. In his July 23 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray indicated that for Americans of color, white nationalistic ideology is our biggest threat. We, however, are reluctant to accurately label young, white male shooters as extremists. Labels are important. Frankly, attaching the correct label to these shooters might actually facilitate how we address them. We might gain a clearer picture of who these gunmen are, and what characteristics they share in common, which might lead us to intercede before they can execute their rampages.

Along with identifying possible shooters, we need gun law reforms! More effective laws could help us keep guns out of dangerous hands. However, at the moment, federal law only requires that gun buyers pass a background check and that law has loopholes.

In May, Sen. Cory Booker, N.J.-D, “...detailed his proposal as part of a broader gun-violence-prevention plan” — The New Yorker, Aug. 4.

“Under Booker’s plan, gun purchasers would have to make an appointment at a designated local office, answer basic background questions there, submit fingerprints, and provide proof of completion of a certified gun-safety course.”

The plan sounds fairly simple to put into place. Well, that is assuming Congress really wants to address our mass shooting epidemic. The concept that Sen. Booker suggested “...is bolstered by research: one study suggested that a permit-to-purchase law for handguns, enacted in Connecticut in 1995, resulted in forty per cent fewer firearm homicides; conversely, another study found that the repeal of a permit-to-purchase law in Missouri, in 2007, led to an abrupt increase in gun-related homicides.” -The New Yorker, Aug. 4. Actually, back in February, the U.S. House passed a gun control bill with bipartisan support.

“The universal background check bill, H.R. 8, requires background checks on all firearm sales in the country. Currently, only licensed gun dealers must perform background checks for anyone seeking to purchase a firearm. Most unlicensed sellers do not (run background checks); H.R. 8 would make that illegal. There are exemptions to the law like ‘gifts to family members and transfers for hunting, target shooting, and self-defense.” — from the House Judiciary Committee website, reported by CNN, Feb. 27.

H.R. 8 was sent to the Senate where it sits, ignored.

We can no longer afford to ignore gun law reform. We are suffering an epidemic of mass shootings. The Dayton mass shooting, on Aug. 4, was 251st in our nation, on the 216th day of this year. It behooves the Senate to reconvene, as soon as possible, from its summer break. (Note: I realize that many of our representatives do devote their break — vacation — time to holding town meetings, listening to their constituents. That’s important, but given the epidemic we now face, it seems imperative that Congress attack the issue sooner, rather than later.) We need immediate action that can help keep us all safe from mass shooters.

Congress needs to face reality. The majority of guns used in these mass shootings are weapons designed specifically for the battlefield. Their sole purpose is to kill — to kill humans. They are not guns to be used for hunting or for target practice. They definitely should not be used on our city streets. They are weapons of war!

In the event that any of us — or any Congressmen or women — feel timid about broaching and addressing this crisis of war weapons, we should heed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.

“... In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

If we fail, once again, to act, we will find ourselves asking the same old question, yet again, “How many more? How many more must die?”

Pat Nevada, whose opinions are her own, lives near Gettysburg.