The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Rising and spreading murder rates mean it’s time to act on guns

Handguns are displayed at a trade show in Las Vegas on Jan. 19, 2016. (John Locher/AP)

“The fact that this is so routine that it’s not even a major headline, and we don’t even blink an eye when this keeps happening is heartbreaking.” So commented the co-founder of the Violence Project about last week’s shooting in a Tennessee grocery store in which 15 people were wounded, one fatally. That lament about the country becoming numb applies not just to the mass shootings that sadly have become all too commonplace in the United States but also to the steady spate of gun violence that has sent the murder rate soaring and scarred countless lives.

The FBI’s annual tabulation of crime data, released on Monday, showed that killings in the United States increased nearly 30 percent last year, the largest annual increase on record. An additional 4,901 people were killed in 2020 compared with 2019, bringing the total to 21,500. Many factors are at play — including an unprecedented pandemic that caused economic and mental stress — but what is most striking is the undeniable role played by guns. Gun homicides accounted for more than two of every three killings; few parts of the country have been spared. In 1990, crime analyst Jeff Asher told the New York Times, New York City and Los Angeles accounted for 13.8 percent of U.S. murders, compared with only 3.8 percent in 2020; a Post analysis of shootings in the first five months of this year found an increase in shooting deaths in suburban and rural areas with experts noting a dramatic increase in gun purchases.

So places such as Collierville, Tenn., have become the setting for violence. Last Thursday afternoon, shots rang out at a Kroger supermarket there, sending shoppers and clerks fleeing into freezers. It was the 10th mass shooting in Tennessee so far this year, and two days later, four people were shot and killed in a domestic dispute in Riceville, Tenn.

The ravages of guns extend beyond those whose deaths are tallied in the annual FBI report. There are the families who must struggle with senseless loss, those who are injured by gunfire and those who witnessed the horror.

The Post’s John Woodrow Cox wrote a searing portrait of a D.C., girl who was the victim of an accidental shooting in May 2020. My’onna Hinton was 4 years old when a 7-year-old relative got hold of a gun left unsecured by a negligent owner. The boy thought it was a toy, squeezed the trigger and shot My’onna through the neck. My’onna is now in a wheelchair, her life forever changed. As is that of her mother and the little boy who said, “I didn’t know it was real … I didn’t mean to do it.”

Instead of putting in place sensible gun control — such as bans on assault weapons, universal background checks, safe-secure laws with stiff consequences — Congress has remained gridlocked. Meanwhile, Republican-led states have enacted laws — such as the one that went into effect in July in Tennessee that allows most adults to carry, openly or concealed, a handgun without a permit. The rising and spreading murder statistics should raise the alarm that it’s time to stop despairing over the damage done by guns and do something about it.