Shootings: storms amid the calm
Another mass shooting, this time in L.A., challenges Americans' senseof security - even as crime declines.
Once again the peace of a normal place has been shattered by a gunman - inexplicably or, perhaps tragically, explicably.Skip to next paragraph
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First it was a Colorado school named for a woodland flower, the columbine. Then it was Atlanta offices where the eager pursue riches through day-trading stock. Now it's a Jewish community center in Los Angeles, where youngsters splash in the pool and the elderly come for card games.
Overall, national gun violence is decreasing. There are fewer guns in schools, workplace violence is down, homicides dropped 8 percent in recent FBI annual figures.
But the nation's sense of security is still being rocked by the disheartening string of mass public shootings.
Breathless media coverage of these disasters surely feeds the anxiety. Still, the shootings seem linked by a new phenomenon - the shooters' disturbing, mysterious fury.
Their hatred is such that perhaps Americans fear it reflects a profound defect within the culture. "The chilling conclusion is that hatred is pervasive and that those who hate are increasingly ready to kill," says Phil Baum, American Jewish Congress executive director. "Until this stops, it remains a distressing commentary on the soul of America."
Tuesday's crisis at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles was the 10th major multiple shooting in the United States this year, according to an Associated Press count.
Within the past four weeks alone, frustrated investor Mark Barton killed nine people at brokerages in Atlanta before taking his own life. Alan Eugene Miller committed three murders at former workplaces in Alabama.
At time of writing, the suspect in Tuesday's community center attack, named by law-enforcement authorities as Buford Furrow, remained at large. Police said Mr. Furrow had no known links to the center, and declined to say whether they felt it was targeted because it was Jewish.
But news reports indicate that a book written by the American Nazi Party was found in Furrow's abandoned van. Furrow had a close relationship with the widow of the founder of a hate group called The Order, according to reports. There were some indications the couple had married.
Given the nature of the attack - the suspect strode into the center and squeezed off more than 70 rounds from an assault weapon before fleeing into the streets of Los Angeles - its toll could have been worse than it was. But the bullets struck the nation's sense of protection, as well as human targets.
Is anyplace safe anymore?
Strictly speaking, yes, say experts. Fear engendered by mass shootings does not reflect a number of positive trends. Students are sneaking fewer guns into school. The Department of Education released a study on Tuesday which found that firearms-related expulsions dropped from 5,724 in the 1996-'97 school year to 3,930 in 1997-'98.
The number of work-related murders dropped 7 percent in 1997, the latest year for which full figures are available. Preliminary FBI figures show that, overall, US homicides dropped 8 percent from 1997 to 1998.