A gun violence protest in New York City, June 2022 (CNS photo/Eric Cox, Reuters)

The word “quixotic” inevitably appears in coverage of Gavin Newsom’s campaign for a Constitutional amendment enshrining common-sense gun control. The Democratic governor of California calls his effort a “mechanism to address the echo chamber of despair”—the despair arising from ever-more-frequent mass shootings and conservative court decisions rolling back even modest gun restrictions. Newsom’s proposed Twenty-Eighth Amendment is hardly the comprehensive measure this country would need to stop the bloodshed. It would merely raise the minimum age to buy a gun from eighteen to twenty-one, mandate universal background checks, impose a waiting period for purchasing a gun, and ban assault weapons. The proposal is bound to go nowhere, but the governor insists that something has to be done. “I got four damn kids, dude, I can’t take it anymore,” Newsom recently said. “This is insane.”

That word is not too strong. Before July 4, the United States was already on pace to exceed the carnage of last year. Then the long holiday weekend brought shootings in Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia; in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina; in Lexington, Kentucky, and Shreveport, Louisiana, and many other places—twenty-two mass shootings in seventeen states that killed at least twenty Americans and injured more than a hundred others.

Since the Parkland massacre, there have been more than two hundred attacks on schools by people with easy access to high-powered firearms.

At the same time, some of the worst mass shootings of recent years were back in the news. In June, the shooter who killed eleven worshippers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 was found guilty in a federal death-penalty trial. On July 7, the shooter who killed twenty-three people in a racist attack at an El Paso Walmart in 2019 was given ninety consecutive life sentences. On July 3, families of victims of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting—in which seventeen people were killed—toured the halls and classrooms of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, scheduled for demolition now that it is no longer needed as evidence in the trials of the gunman or of the police deputy accused of failing to stop him.

The deputy, Scot Peterson, was acquitted by a jury in late June of felony child neglect and culpable negligence, charges stemming from the allegation that he didn’t follow his training for confronting an active shooter. Parkland parents reacted angrily to the verdict, with some decrying “another failure of the system” (last year, the gunman escaped the death penalty). Their disappointment and distress are entirely understandable, and they are not wrong to seek accountability. But it was the correct decision. Punishing a civil servant for failing to stop a slaughter single-handedly is an obvious instance of scapegoating. It puts the burden of responsibility that our whole government and society should bear all on one person. This attempt to shift the blame to Peterson is yet another sign—on top of calls to arm teachers and subjecting children to active-shooter drills—that we’ve decided to accept mass shootings as a feature of American life.

This is the toll of acceptance: as of mid-July, the Gun Violence Archive’s tally of mass shootings stood at 372 for the year so far, and the number of mass murders committed with guns at twenty-seven. Since the Parkland massacre, there have been more than two hundred attacks on schools by people with easy access to high-powered firearms. Four in ten Americans now believe it is at least somewhat likely that they’ll be the victim of a shooter within the next five years. Newsom’s Twenty-Eighth Amendment may be very unlikely, but it isn’t crazy. What’s crazy is the status quo.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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Published in the July/August 2023 issue: View Contents
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