Monday’s news that a shooting rampage left 12 dead at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., was jarring and also left us asking the one question that matters most and yet is hardest to answer.
Why would someone load a weapon and go on a shooting spree? Why?
While authorities sift around for motive, it’s worth noting this is an act that has happened with a depressing and almost frightening frequency in this nation since the first mass shooting to force itself into our national consciousness took place in 1999.
In fact, according to wire services, there have been 30 mass shootings in the United States since the April 20, 1999, massacre at Colombine High School in Colorado when Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold shot and killed 13 people, wounded 21 others and took their own lives before it was all over.
In July of that same year, a man killed his wife and two kids with a hammer, then shot up a pair of day trading firms in Atlanta. Before killing himself, he took the lives of 12 people and injured 13 others — apparently because he suffered monetary losses.
In September of that year, a man opened fire at a Christian rock concert in Chicago, killing seven people and wounding seven others. He also took his own life.
There was a mass shooting in 2000 when a man killed seven of his co-workers in Massachusetts; another in 2003 when a Mississippi man on a racist rampage killed seven at a Lockheed Martin plant; one in 2005; two more in 2006; and three in 2007, including the Virginia Tech massacre when one man gunned down 56 people. Thirty-two of those who were shot died.
The years 2008 and 2009 also saw at least five mass shootings, including the Nov. 5, 2009, bloodletting at Fort Hood in Texas, when an Army psychiatrist shot and killed 13 people and wounded 29.
In 2010, a Connecticut man shot up a beer distributorship after he was caught stealing beer. Nine people were killed, including the shooter.
There were three separate shooting incidents in the U.S. in 2011 — in Arizona, California and Nevada. All told, 19 people were killed.
But 2012 was the bloodiest year on record when it comes to this sort of thing. It started in February at an Ohio high school when an armed man killed three students. Seven more people were shot to death April 6 at a Korean Christian College in Oakline, Calif., three more were killed April 6 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and six more in May in Seattle.
And then there was the July 20 premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises” at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., when a man opened fire in a movie theater, killing 12 and wounding 58.
December was brutal as well — first, a 22-year-old in Oregon shot two people and then himself with a stolen rifle, followed by the Dec. 14 murder of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut by Adam Lanza.
That abhorrent shooting — how does one open fire on kids? — was just the latest in a long string of such atrocities. In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, slate.com did some research. It found 287 people have been killed in school shootings alone since 1980.
Though some of the killings seem at least on the surface to have been fueled by motive — anger over lost jobs, racism, a desire for infamy, mental illness — in truth, all are senseless.
And, as the Navy Yard shooting is bound to do, these events all tend to bring back into the public eye the long, long debate over our second-amendment rights.
People have different views on this issue, and we should be able to discuss those views with some civility. There can be a middle ground on gun ownership in this country, and it’s important that it be found sooner rather than later. Indeed, the debate to find that common ground is healthy, at least so long as no one is getting shot.
Unfortunately, as we learned once again Monday, that’s not the case.