Hours of madness in America

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A murderous madness broke out in America the weekend of Aug. 3, extending from El Paso, Texas, to Dayton, Ohio, 13 hours later. Two shootings, two inexplicable events. Many dead.

This is a shock for the country, but one that’s too familiar: A gunman chooses to commit violence against innocent people, against anyone in range. The gunman selects the time and place and then seeks to kill and injure as many as possible in moments.

It happened in Texas and Ohio, and a version of events happened in Chicago, too. Soon after the Dayton shooting, someone on the West Side started firing at a group of people at Douglas Park. Chicago police said seven people were sent to the hospital with bullet wounds.

In El Paso, a 21-year-old man armed with a rifle went on a rampage in a Walmart store after 10 a.m. local time, slaughtering at least 20 people, injuring 26 more, police said. The shooting went on for minutes. The store was crowded, the shopping area filled with as many as 3,000 people. The suspect is in custody.

Americans went to bed Saturday night troubled by the carnage in El Paso and awoke Sunday to news of more bloodshed attached to another city’s name: Dayton. Around 1 a.m. local time Sunday, an armed man began shooting outside a bar in a popular entertainment area. Police said the 24-year-old shooter, wearing body armor, killed nine people and injured dozens. The shooter is dead.

On cable news television, the talk between anchors and experts shifted from possible motives to “soft targets,” a concept of vulnerability that has become part of the everyday vernacular in America. Schools are soft targets, as are offices, shopping areas, nightclubs and outdoor festivals. All have been targeted by mass shooters. Last weekend, a gunman opened fire on the crowd at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, killing three and injuring 13.

What kind of evil compels a perpetrator to harm and kill many strangers? Heinous acts of gun violence are neither rational nor predictable. Authorities in El Paso said they identified a rant-filled online “manifesto” they suspect was written by the alleged shooter and posted minutes before the gunfire started. The language suggested the shooting was a hate crime, El Paso police Chief Greg Allen said.

In Dayton on Sunday, investigators searched for leads that might explain the shooter’s decision to massacre partiers. The gunman’s use of body armor suggests a planned attack, a decision to do violence. Police took him down within moments. Among the dead was the suspect’s sister.

America needs to deal with its propensity for gun violence and the availability of weaponry. Our belief is that there are steps Congress can take to reduce the opportunities for armed villains to kill. They include universal background checks and limits on magazine capacity. The Second Amendment guarantee that individuals have the right to own guns complicates restriction efforts.

But there is something else in play in America that needs to be confronted beyond the availability of guns. It is the rage that compels some people to cause mass, indiscriminate harm.

An angry person with access to weapons represents a particular type of danger in the United States. In El Paso and Pittsburgh. In a Texas church and another in South Carolina. In a Florida school and a Florida nightclub. And on the streets of Chicago.

There will always be guns in America, legal and otherwise. It is part of the culture of this country. But what, if anything, can be done to deal with the anger? It’s a troubling question in part because it’s so immense. Yet it’s undeniable.

There is a streak of madness of America causing the country great harm. In El Paso, in Dayton, and in Chicago.

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