The nation’s hopes for a Thanksgiving reprieve are dashed by another tragic spate of gun violence



CNN

As the nation’s psyche was rocked by another mass shooting in Chesapeake, Virginia, the terrifying moments of Walmart employee Jessie Wilczewski – who survived an attack Tuesday night that killed at least six people – reflected the position of hopelessness where America once again finds itself when it comes to gun violence.

“He had the gun to my forehead,” Wilczewski told CNN’s Erica Hill on Wednesday night’s “Erin Burnett OutFront,” describing the moment she encountered the suspect, identified by Walmart as an “overnight team leader” at the store. “He told me to go home.”

“I got up very slowly and tried not to look at anyone on the ground,” Wilczewski said. She walked through the double doors into the egg aisle, grabbed her bag, and wondered if the suspect was going to shoot her in the back. She started walking and didn’t stop until she got to her car.

This is a year in which President Joe Biden and congressional lawmakers managed to forge a bipartisan compromise on a package of gun safety laws after years of inaction. States like Virginia and Colorado — where a gunman opened fire at an LBGTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs over the weekend, killing five people — have enacted strict gun control measures to prevent such events from happening. Lawmakers from both parties have spent countless hours campaigning in promises to address the country’s mental health crisis. It should get better.

And yet the nation is once again trying to come to terms with yet another senseless tragedy.

Wilczewski, who was at Walmart on her fifth night on the job, found herself in the break room with a shooter and wondered if she would make it out alive, and then wondered — when she did — why her life had been spared, if so this was the case many other innocents were not. It’s a recurring question Americans ask themselves every time a mass shooting occurs.

“I don’t know why he let me go and yeah, it’s really, really upsetting to me,” Wilczewski said. “Playback doesn’t stop when you leave the scene. It doesn’t stop hurting. It does not stop.”

These are sentiments expressed by countless gun violence survivors who have urged lawmakers to do more in recent years as mass shootings continue unabated. Americans had been looking forward to this Thanksgiving holiday as a reprieve at the end of a difficult year marked by the impact of the pandemic and fears of layoffs and a possible recession. But on a holiday meant to reflect the nation’s blessing, the incidents in Virginia and Colorado Springs have plunged the nation back into a seemingly never-ending debate about how to stop gun violence that never seems to resolve.

There have been at least 609 mass shootings — incidents in which more than four people were shot dead — this year, according to the Archives of Gun Violence, compared to 638 shootings last year at this time and 690 shootings in 2021.

Investigators are still trying to unravel the motives behind the Virginia and Colorado incidents, but the unexplained killings in Chesapeake came less than two weeks after a deadly shooting of three football players at the University of Virginia earlier this month. The series of incidents points to the failure of existing laws to stop the slaughter, as well as the deep disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over what additional gun safety measures are needed.

The rift between the two parties was illustrated Wednesday by disparate responses from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican being eyed as a potential candidate for the 2024 White House, and Biden, who has long advocated stricter gun measures.

Youngkin said Virginians’ hearts were broken after “an appalling, senseless act of violence in Chesapeake” — calling it a “shocking naked reality” without going into details of gun policy or how these events could be prevented.

“We’ve had two horrific acts of violence within two weeks in the Commonwealth of Virginia and that absolutely brings with it a sense of anger, a sense of fear, a sense of deep, deep sadness,” the Virginia governor said.

On Thanksgiving, Youngkin also asked about his condition in a tweet to “lift up in prayer” the families of those killed in the mass shootings.

Biden, on the other hand, called for “more action” on gun reform after calling for the reinstatement of an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Colorado Springs shooting — a proposal that has little chance of gaining traction in a divided Congress where Republicans are set to take power to grasp the house in January.

Biden noted in a statement that Thanksgiving is typically a holiday that “brings us together as Americans and as families as we hug loved ones and count our blessings.” But because of yet another horrific and senseless act of violence, there are now even more tables across the country that will have empty seats this Thanksgiving. There are now more families who know the worst loss and pain imaginable.”

“This year I signed the most significant gun reform in a generation, but that’s not nearly enough. We need to take bigger action,” Biden said.

On Thanksgiving, Biden told reporters he would work with Congress to “try to get rid of offensive weapons.”

When asked if he would attempt this during the lame duck session, he said, “I’ll have to do that assessment as soon as I come in and start counting the votes.”

Congress returns next week with a jam-packed to-do list in the lame duck session, mostly focused on the much-needed government finance bill, as well as other priorities. But any gun legislation measures — notably the ban on assault weapons repeatedly called for by Biden — don’t have the votes to pass. And the reality of a divided Congress in next year’s session makes it highly unlikely that anything will happen in the next two years.

Charles Ramsey, a former Washington, DC police chief and CNN law enforcement analyst, noted that in both the Chesapeake, Virginia, and Colorado shootings, police response times were very short — the first officer got to the scene at the Walmart scene within two minutes, according to the City of Chesapeake. However, police were unable to stop the loss of life, including the death of a 16-year-old boy in the Walmart shooting, who is not identified because he is a minor.

“It will happen again; it’s not going to stop,” Ramsey said Wednesday on CNN’s The Situation Room. “We’re going to talk about something else next week — I mean, if we have short memories, we’re not focusing and not taking the steps that we need to take as a society to stop it.”

Steve Moore, a retired FBI special agent who works for law enforcement at CNN, said it would be more effective for lawmakers to focus their efforts on solving the country’s mental health problems rather than pursuing an assault weapons ban, which hardly has any has a chance of enforcement – in part because so many of these weapons are already in the hands of private individuals.

“It’s pretty late to close the barn door,” Moore told CNN’s Newsroom on Wednesday. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but we have to find a way to keep them away from people who shouldn’t have them, and in this situation in Colorado there was more than enough — more than enough evidence of a red flag law.” use the flag to keep weapons away from him.”

The portraits of both suspects were of troubled individuals whose behavior raised questions from those who met them.

Anderson Lee Aldrich, the Colorado gunman who appeared on video from a Colorado courtroom on Wednesday, was bullied as a youth and appears to have had a difficult relationship with his mother, which has been subject to a series of arrests and related psychological investigations was for reporting by the CNN Investigates team. Sagittarius identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns she and them, according to court records.

Aldrich’s mother called police last year to report that Aldrich had threatened to harm her with bombs and other weapons – but no charges were brought in that case, which was subsequently sealed.

Employees said the gunman who opened fire at Walmart, identified by the City of Chesapeake as 31-year-old Andre Bing, exhibited strange and threatening behavior.

Briana Tyler, a Walmart employee, told CNN’s Brian Todd that the shooter “just had a blank look on his face” during the shooting.

“He was literally just looking around the room and just shooting, and there were people just falling to the ground,” Tyler said. “Everyone screamed and gasped. And yes, he just walked away after that and just walked around the store and just kept shooting.”

According to the city of Chesapeake, Bing was armed with a handgun and several magazines and died from what is believed to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound.



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