The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion A lethal combination of guns and hateful ideology led to tragedy in Buffalo

Law enforcement investigates on Monday the scene of a mass shooting in which 10 people died in Buffalo over the weekend. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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“I am the sole perpetrator of this attack.” That is what authorities said the accused gunman in the mass shooting at a Tops supermarket in Buffalo wrote in a 180-page screed before he launched a murderous rampage targeting Black people. The young White man charged in Saturday’s massacre may well be the one who pulled the trigger, but the gunman’s actions cannot be separated from two increasingly horrifying facets of American life — the ascendance of white-supremacist conspiracy theories and the unrestrained, unique to this country, access to firearms.

Ten people were killed and three others were injured in the assault outside a busy grocery store in a Black neighborhood. Among the dead: Celestine Chaney, 65, shopping for shrimp and strawberry shortcake; Ruth Whitfield, 86, on her way home after just visiting her husband in a nursing home; Aaron Salter Jr., 55, on the job as store security guard. Mr. Salter, a retired Buffalo police officer, has rightly been hailed as a hero for trying to stop the gunman, firing multiple shots, but he stood no chance against someone wearing body armor and armed with an assault weapon.

In the hate-filled manifesto attributed to him, accused gunman Payton Gendron explained his choice of weapons that included a semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun: “There are very few weapons that are easier to use and more effective at killing than firearms, especially the Bushmaster XM-15 I will be using.” That Mr. Gendron, 18, had undergone a mental evaluation less than a year ago for making a threat at his high school but could still obtain such weapons throws into stark relief the absurdity of this country’s gun laws as well as the weaknesses in its mental health systems.

Henry Olsen

counterpointWhy the Supreme Court’s gun ruling is an entirely reasonable one

The tragedy in Buffalo wasn’t the only mass shooting over the weekend. Two people were killed and at least three wounded at a flea market in Harris County, Tex.; one person was killed and five injured at a church in Orange County, Calif.; 21 people were wounded by gunfire in Milwaukee after a professional basketball semifinal game. Research released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of the nation’s gun deaths in 2020 reached the highest levels ever recorded, with gun-related homicides increasing 35 percent.

Yet Congress refuses to act — on universal background checks, banning assault weapons, requiring safe firearm storage or other common-sense precautions favored by most Americans. And the same Republican Party that has steadfastly opposed any type of gun control has also helped fuel the ideology that spurred an 18-year-old to travel 200 miles to hunt down Black people. His venomous manifesto echoed racist tropes neither new nor unique to the United States. But what was once on the fringes has now been given currency, thanks to the Republican Party’s tolerance of white nationalists who count themselves as part of its base.

“The House GOP leadership has enabled white nationalism, white supremacy, and anti-semitism. History has taught us that what begins with words ends in far worse,” Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) wrote on Twitter. Nor will this be the last time something like this happens.