In one week in March 2020, two mass shootings rocked the nation. First in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, March 16, then in Boulder, Colorado on Monday, March 22. It had been a year since there was a major shooting (10 or more people killed) in a public place, with the last one being in Virginia Beach in 2019. The Atlanta shootings took the lives of eight, while the Boulder shooter tragically killed ten.
Mass shootings rose nearly 50% in 2020 according to USA Today, a harrowing statistic. In 2020 alone, gun violence resulted in the deaths of nearly 20,000 Americans, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive. This is more than any other year in over two decades.
On March 16, Robert Aaron Long, a 21-year-old white man, targeted three spas in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Within the span of two hours, Long shot and killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, and wounded one other person. Due to the fact that the spas were staffed by many Asian women, many Americans are accusing Long of committing a hate crime. Long stated his motive to be a sex addiction that conflicted with his religion (Evangelical Christianity), which does not allow for sex before marriage. Long reportedly decided to “help” others dealing with sex addiction by targeting the three spas, as he saw them as sources of sexual temptation. According to the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Department, Long wanted to “eliminate the temptation.” Long did not have any prior incidents with law enforcement.
Anti-Asian crimes have spiked during the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to the fact that the virus emerged in Wuhan, China. London Metropolitan Police statistics (the U.S. does not record such statistics) show a 96% increase in incidents of hate crimes against people of East Asian appearance from June to September of 2019 to the same period in 2020 in the London, England area.
While it remains unknown whether the Atlanta shootings were racially motivated, movements have sprung up across the world raising awareness for racism against Asians. For example, in Europe, the #IAmNotAVirus movement was created to raise awareness about the increase of violence against Asians. It has been active in Spain and France for over a year, and is now spreading throughout the world sharing stories and resources about anti-Asian sentiments.
On March 22, Ahmad Al Aliwi Al-Issa walked into a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder with the intent to kill, but his motive remains unknown. No matter the motive, Al-Issa killed ten people, including a Boulder police officer. Several officers were wounded in the firefight as well, and so was Al-Issa, who was shot in the leg by officers. According to Al-Issa’s older brother, Al-Issa has a history of paranoid, disturbed, and antisocial behavior, and he may have been suffering from a mental health problem.
Many Americans are calling yet again for nationwide gun violence reforms. Protests have sprung up against anti-Asian hate crimes in Philadelphia, New York City (which experienced five possible anti-Asian hate crimes just last weekend), and even in not-so-distant places such as Binghamton University.
Many Americans wonder why people who are potential threats to others are able to buy weapons in the first place. Al-Issa, who has been charged with assault in 2018, bought a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle in the week prior to the shooting. Robert Aaron Long legally bought a 9-millimeter handgun at a firearms store in Holly Springs, Georgia, just hours before the Atlanta spa shootings. President Biden called for an immediate ban on assault weapons and an ammunition limit following the Boulder shooting. Additionally, less than two weeks before the shooting, the Boulder County District Court ruled Boulder’s gun restrictions were invalid under state law. This likely had no impact on Al-Issa, however, as he lived in a different county. On the flip side, several Republican senators have come out in defense of gun rights, stating that Democrats wanted to get rid of all guns and that gun control does not lessen crime.
Even members of the J-D community have weighed in on the mass shootings and how they relate to gun control. The mass shootings that keep occurring have also scared many students who no longer feel safe in schools and other public places.
“The recent shootings are disgusting and horrifying. It makes me sick how horrible some people can be and how corrupt our society is to ignore the problems. The fact that a mass shooting can be called a ‘bad day’ by a white man is just disgusting. We certainly need way better gun control laws, because clearly a concerning amount of people who have guns should not be allowed to have a gun, because they cause the murders of so many people. I am not exclusively worried about a shooting at J-D as much as I am a mass shooting in general. J-D is in a pretty safe area, and although shootings can and have happened anywhere, I would like to believe that the chances of it happening at J-D are low. However, the sad truth is you can never know when one will happen or where it will happen. I think the amount of shootings that have happened these past few years and this month alone are impossible to ignore by anyone with a heart and that our country needs dire change,” says sophomore Hannah Fuchsberg, who referenced the controversial statement by Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Captain Jay Baker that the Atlanta shooter was having a ‘bad day.’
According to J-DHS Principal Paul Gasparini, “An awful, awful consideration, isn’t it (the possibility of a shooting occuring in a J-D school)? It reminds me of the conversation we had back in 2018. That was right after Parkland, and we had a couple of class walkouts. We really supported the students. I think if anybody has that palpable fear [of a mass shooting occurring at J-D] that keeps them from operating — we had some kids back in 2018 who had that — I would strongly encourage them to see their counselor, Mr. Hartley, Mrs. Howe. — somebody along those lines. Talk to a teacher or a coach that they’re close with. So I’d want them to get some reassurance. We have the SRO (school resource officer) who goes through all kinds of safety protocols. We are, after break, going to have a couple of lockdown drills, and we’ll talk through our response at that time. So it’s a very poignant thing. I didn’t know anyone in Atlanta, but I have two friends in Colorado who are very familiar with the supermarket there, and are very familiar with the area, and it’s affected them personally. So yeah, it’s awful.”
New York State’s gun laws are relatively strict, so the chances of a similar incident occurring at J-D are markedly lower than in Colorado and Georgia. In late 2020, AZ Defenders ranked New York as the worst U.S. state for responsible gun owners, citing universal background checks on all sales, open carry of long guns only, limited concealed carry permissions, Castle Doctrine but not Stand Your Ground laws, a ban on assault weapons, and an ammunition capacity limit. In contrast, Colorado and Georgia were ranked 39th and 23rd best for responsible gun owners, respectively.
While the likelihood that a similar event could occur at J-D is low, it is always possible, and administrators are remaining vigilant to keep students and staff safe, as well as offering support resources for students such as the counseling staff.