Early Thursday morning, before the tragic mass shooting at Umpqua Community College had occurred, The Chicago Sun-Times published a front-page story about gun violence and the need to take swift action. Only a handful of hours after the paper hit newsstands, the U.S. was once again rocked with information that another deadly shooting had occurred, this time in the small town of Roseburg, Ore. The editorial and the headline are of course situated in the context of the many shootings we've witnessed in the last several months, and the message now hangs very heavy in the aftermath of the shooting at Umpqua Community College.
Update: On Friday, it was confirmed that there were nine victim fatalities and that Mercer killed himself after Thursday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College. On Saturday, there were reports that Mercer handed out a box to a fellow classmate that possibly contained his final note. The note that Mercer left detailed his depression and loneliness. In an interview with CNN on Saturday, Mercer's father wondered how his estranged son was able to obtain 13 guns. Mercer was a student at the college and was enrolled in the writing class where he opened fire. He previously attended a school for mentally unstable children and was briefly enrolled in the U.S. Army in 2008, before he was kicked out a month in for not demonstrating the basic administrative standards required to serve. All of his guns were purchased legally.
The victims' names were released Friday night: Lucero Alcaraz, 19; Treven Taylor Anspach, 20; Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18; Quinn Glen Cooper, 18; Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59; Lucas Eibel, 18; Jason Dale Johnson, 33;Lawrence Levine, 67 (assistant professor); Sarena Dawn Moore, 44.
Oregon's gun ownership laws are particularly lax. There is no requirement for a gun permit before purchase of a gun, firearms do not need to be registered, and gun owners do not need to be licensed, according to a Newsweek article reporting on the Umpqua shooting. These sort of loose or absent regulations were one of the problematic issues discussed in The Chicago Sun-Times editorial, "Illegal Guns Killing Our City, Body, And Soul," written by its editorial board.
Speaking specifically to the problem of homicides committed with firearms in the city of Chicago (which has one of the highest overall homicide rates in the country), The Sun-Times spoke to the inconsistent manner with which owners of illegal guns are dealt. The editorial board wrote:
In Chicago, people carrying guns illegally are destroying whole neighborhoods. Yet they feel no fear of the law, not really. They know that if they are caught carrying a gun illegally they might go to jail or they might not. They might go away for a year, or maybe for a week or just pull probation — who knows.
The editorial compares the treatment of illegal gun ownership to how police handled drunk driving only a couple decades ago — as more of a public nuisance than a major threat. The editorial suggests that the solution to the illegal gun problem could and should be solved in the same manner that drunk driving has been dealt with: with a zero-tolerance policy.
Though unlike the tragic situation in Oregon, where legal gun ownership laws seem to be weak enough as to warrant concern (there have not yet been reports or confirmations regarding the Umpqua shooter's weapon, and whether or not the shooter obtained it legally), the problem in Chicago is largely related to illegal guns. A Fox News affiliated reported that U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon has concluded that the rising homicide rate in Chicago is due to gang activity.
While the laws, regulations, and cultural contexts of Roseburg and Chicago have many differences, the angry outcry from The Sun-Times can certainly be read as an indictment on national gun laws and the veritable crisis of gun violence the U.S. is facing. The timing of this front-page piece in Chicago just before the emergence of yet another devastating act of violence across the country in Oregon demonstrates how dire this situation has become.
Images: Chicago Sun-Times