Could the Uvalde tragedy happen in Brooklyn?

June 10, 2022 William A. Gralnick
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It has been said multiple times over multiple days by multiple people: The next mass shooting event is being planned while we are still pondering Buffalo and Uvalde. What are the odds it could happen in Brooklyn? Pretty good.

Brooklyn, more than big — 2.6 million people that would qualify it to be the fourth largest city in America — is diverse. It is also dense. Lots of people, different from one another, rub shoulders daily. Rubbing creates friction. Thirty-six thousand 700 plus people are packed into every square mile. While 54% white, almost every community of color is represented in its boundaries. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians make up almost all of the rest of the population. However, in the small space that remains, Italians, Irish, Russians, and Poles are represented, as are Sikhs and Indians.

In Brooklyn, English is not the primary language for hundreds of thousands of people. 17% speak Spanish, 6% speak Chinese, 3% speak Russian, another 3% Yiddish. One per cent each of Brooklyn resident speaks either Hebrew or Creole.

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Brooklyn is home to more than a half million Jews, making them one out of every fourth citizen and 58,000 Muslims.

If you look at the diatribes of the assaulters, it is easy to surmise that Brooklyn has the makings of multiple crazy-person flashpoints. Now let’s dive a little deeper into the rest of the “why?” in what happens

“From sea to shining sea” is one of many romantic lines about this great, large nation of ours. We know it from school as the North American continent, but do we know what that really means. In Italy, I learned that one can walk from one tip of Venice to the other in about four hours. In Israel, depending on who is driving, one can go from the seashore of the Red Sea in Eilat to the northern border’s often snow-capped mountains in eight hours. Driving the 2,789 miles from America’s East Coast to West Coast (NYC to LA) averages 42 hours or 6-7 days, depending again on variables.

When it comes to tragedies in America, size matters. This is a big country and as Willie S. wrote, “There lies the rub.”  In a small town, a small state, a small country, the populace is like a large family. Everyone feels the pain. Before TV, well before cable, when a tragedy happened in one part of this nation, it took days, sometimes weeks, for most of the country to know about it, no less the details. Today everything is “Breaking News” and everyone knows almost instantly through one device or another. The sympathy and empathy are immediate. We are a generous people. There is an instant outpouring of goods, services, and money from neighbors and strangers. It usually lasts for a few news cycles, and then most everyone goes back to their own lives feeling better than they in some way contributed to the healing.

Except for the Uvalde, would Americans pass a test on the details of Sandy Hook, Margorie Stoneman Douglas, or the gay nightclub slaughter in Orlando? I know I wouldn’t. As many pundits and politicians are saying this week, the shock of the shooting in Uvalde is unlikely to last long enough to impact the mid-term elections, no less produce any meaningful legislation to lessen the possibility of something like it happening somewhere else. A former Florida legislative leader said, “It isn’t like six-dollar gasoline that we confront on a daily basis.” What does linger, however, is an unsettled dread in one’s heart and mind. It is there that we—you—should start.

As the Democrat running for Governor in Texas said, “The next shooting is already being planned.”  We know from experience this to be true. None of the shootings “just happened.” They were the result of a process. Something percolates in the mind. A plan is drawn to act on that something. Weaponry for its execution has to be purchased. Almost always, the plan is discussed, often online. Then it happens, and everyone is shocked as if someone woke up in the morning, said I’m going on a killing spree today, and then did. ‘doesn’t happen that way.

There are two important points to be made now. One is about mental health. All the money in the world put into mental health services won’t solve the problem. First, about three-quarters of all gun deaths are suicides. They certainly are mental health problems, but a trained network of professionals can reach those about to take their own lives? Unlikely. Size again matters. And the other? The murderers? Aside from finding and intervening with them in time, there are legal issues that muddy the waters and slow the process. Mental health services are a part of the solution. The rest of it? Guns. This is where you come in.

Remember the old NRA slogan, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people?” The fact is that people kill people using guns. The focus must be on guns. The legendary Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil said, ‘All politics is local.” Make the politics of guns local. First, decide what kind of country you want to live in. Is it one where an 18-year-old can buy two assault rifles and almost 350 rounds of ammunition, no questions asked? You don’t have to be a constitutional scholar to assume that is not what the framers had in mind. To me, the constitution is being used by gun advocates as a straw dog. If you need a license to drive a car and must be a certain age as well, why shouldn’t we have rules about buying guns? Considering all the questions one has to answer to get a loan or buy a house, all the databases that are checked to secure the institution that you’re a safe bet, how do we sell weapons without knowing every possible thing about the purchaser? The gun show loopholes need to go. And ask yourself this: what civilian needs an assault rifle anyway? Like in Ukraine, if the Russians attack, the government will give them out and train the recipients to use them. Here is a homework assignment. Look up assault rifles, and for each one, check how many rounds per minute they fire. Then ask yourself that question again. 

Now envision walking through the park or shopping in a mall and seeing dozens upon dozens of men and women wearing sidearms because you live in an open carry, no license state. You’re back in Dodge or at the OK Corral, but there’s no Marshall Dillon around to keep order. Then a worker drops a flat board on the hard floor. It makes a “crack!” like a gunshot. Within seconds, you’ll be in a sea of drawn guns and probably in a shootout caused by people shooting at their imaginations, seeing themselves in the morning papers as the heroes of the incident. And all this before the police begin to swarm an area now infested with gun-toting civilians, causing them all to draw their weapons. Think amusement park shooting gallery with live targets and live ammunition.

But what can you do? Like I have advised about other issues, pick one or two that really ring your bell. If you have children or have family that works in schools, this should be one of them. Then go online and google anti-gun organizations. Find one whose message speaks to you and preferably one that has a chapter in your state, or country, or best, your local area. Contact them. Like me, all you may be able to do is sign petitions and sign letters to opinion molders in and out of government. Maybe you can attend a rally. You can get a list of emails from the group and solicit memberships and or money. And you can give money. Yes, one dollar or a fiver can make a difference. Candidates who only take small, non-corporate donations raise millions of dollars on gifts that seem insignificant.

Back in the ’90s, an Egyptian politician and scholar, Boutrous Boutrous-Galli, became Secretary-General of the UN. The world was a mess, a seemingly endless string of droughts, starvations, tribal and military slaughters. There was the Rwanda genocide, the wars in Angola and Yugoslavia, UN failure in Bosnia, the tribal brutalities in Somalia, to name some. The UN seemed unable to get out of its own way. When asked why it couldn’t rally the world, the Sec-Gen opined that he thought the world was disastered out.

The world is again in a mess, actually multiple messes. Let’s remove for the moment, climate change, the existential threat that can erase us all, and let’s just mention gun violence. Is that the city, state, or nation you want to live in? As a scientist recently said, “There is no Planet B.” This is not going to go away unless you do your part to make it go away. It starts with thinking. It ends with voting and in the middle, it takes your giving of yourself.

William Gralnick has two degrees in political science. He has spent over 40 years in intergroup relations work and working with law enforcement. He was Executive Aide to the Mayor of Stamford, Connecticut. He has faced directly multiple situations involving groups facing off with guns and was once shot at. During his career, he wrote over 900 op-ed articles on contemporary issues.


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