In less than 24 hours this weekend, two cities more than 1,500 miles apart were united in a tragedy uniquely American. In El Paso, 22 are dead; in Dayton, 9 — all gunned down by heavily armed men carrying out vendettas either political or personal. The shootings connect the communities in Texas and Ohio in grief and anger.
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Scenes from the sites of the massacres — a crowded Walmart near the southern border and a popular entertainment district in downtown Dayton — echo shootings past. The violence gives way to grim ritual: mourning, vigils, protest and politicians’ promises to push for change. Leaders and residents say they never thought it would happen to them, in their communities. But now they know it can.
Mark Lambie/El Paso Times/AP; David Kohl/EPA-EFE
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Ivan Pierre Aguirre/EPA-EFE; John Minchillo/AP
Since 1966, public mass shootings have killed nearly 1,200 people. Though they account for a small slice of the country’s total gun deaths, the shootings are unique in their capacity to wreak terror without warning.
But as the national death toll has risen, the startling statistics have revealed a darker truth: These spasms of violence aren’t isolated cases. They’re symptoms of an American epidemic.
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A gunman strode into a packed El Paso Walmart on Saturday clad in protective headgear and carrying an military-style rifle. Police say the man accused of killing at least 22 people and injuring many more is a 21-year-old white Dallas-area resident. Investigators believe the man, who drove 10 hours across the state, is also the author of a racist, anti-immigrant and white supremacist screed posted online shortly before the massacre.
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Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News/AP; John Minchillo/AP
Larry W. Smith/EPA-EFE; Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post
Hours after the attack in El Paso, a 24-year-old man wearing a mask and body armor while wielding an AR-15-like weapon unleashed a barrage of fire on a street in a historic Dayton neighborhood bustling with bars and restaurants. He killed nine people, including his sister, and injured 27 others before police shot and killed the gunman. The rampage, which began around 1 a.m. Sunday, lasted 30 seconds. Investigators said the shooter had been “exploring violent ideologies.”
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The back-to-back massacres reignited the countrywide call for gun reform, spurring gatherings that were part vigil and part protest. While Democrats reiterated demands for stricter laws, Republicans — who are in power in Texas and Ohio — struggled to respond, most offering generalities or silence. In Dayton on Monday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) gave a halting speech about the need for love and resilience. As he spoke, the crowd interrupted: “Do something! Do something!”
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On Monday, President Trump — who could set the tone for gun law negotiations — condemned the pair of shootings and called for an end to “racism, bigotry and white supremacy.” That morning, Trump appeared to endorse the idea of strengthening background checks. But by the afternoon, he hadn’t elaborated. This, too, was similar to past mass shootings. After the 2018 massacre in Parkland, Fla., Trump also called for stricter laws. But, in the year and a half since, little has changed.
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