If you want to know why nothing will change after the mass shooting at the FedEx Ground facility near the Indianapolis airport, you can find part of the answer about 22 miles away from the carnage.
The Indiana State Fairgrounds will be bustling all weekend with people paying $15 apiece (plus another $10 in parking) to attend the Indy 1500 Gun & Knife Show, which bills itself as “One of the Largest Gun & Knife Shows East of the Mississippi!”
What you’d find would not be surprising: Americans love guns. There are hundreds of millions of them in the U.S., more per capita than any other country. Any serious effort to keep guns away from every person who might go on a shooting rampage would also have to be a serious effort to keep guns away from the people who are walking the fairgrounds this weekend.
Victims Identified:Indianapolis police identify the 8 FedEx shooting victims, still investigating motive
But don’t expect to hear anyone — not even those calling the loudest for change — talk about taking extreme gun control measures to stop mass shootings. Instead, elected officials spent Friday following the same script that you hear after every such incident, at least until the horror fades away and everyone moves on.
Former FedEx employee Brandon Scott Hole, 19, shot and killed eight people and then apparently took his own life late Thursday, according to police.
“It would be absolutely coldhearted of House Speaker Todd Huston, Senate President Rodric Bray, and Governor Eric Holcomb if they failed to address gun violence as the state is currently in session and able to find a solution to this problem,” Ali Brown, a City-County Council Democrat, said in one of the most provocative reactions.
What, then, would it take for Indiana’s Republican leaders to prove they have souls? Brown suggested the legislature should consider “passing background check legislation, banning automatic rifles, and advocating for other commonsense gun control measures.”
When Brown made that statement, there was no evidence that any of those steps would have prevented the incident at FedEx.
Meanwhile, council Republicans absurdly sought to connect the shooting to “the rise in violence in our city,” as minority leader Brian Mowery put it, as well as “the mental health problems that so often underlie these events.”
And, of course, Mowery offered “most sincere and heartfelt thoughts and prayers.”
Democrats for years have highlighted, fairly, that Republicans offer nothing but “thoughts and prayers” after mass shootings. But at least Republicans are being transparent about their apathy.
While Democrats might make themselves feel good by summoning righteous indignation and pointing to some small policy suggestions, it amounts to little more than performative do-somethingism.
Shootings in Indianapolis:FedEx mass shooting the deadliest in Indianapolis in at least 15 years
Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, waded into the policy debate only when asked what he would do during a Friday news conference. He noted he recently signed a letter calling for the U.S. Senate to consider legislation that would “expand background checks to be required when firearms are transferred between private citizens.”
That’s a reasonable idea that comes with some bipartisan plausibility, although it has yet to happen after all the other mass shootings and, if it ever does happen, it would only make a marginal difference, at best.
Aaron Kivisto, an associate professor of clinical psychology for the University of Indianapolis, wrote a paper that, I think, points to the challenge here. Kivisto’s work, published in 2019 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, contradicts the conventional wisdom that America’s off-the-charts civilian gun ownership rate is to blame for homicides.
Kivisto examined state-level firearm rates and found that private gun ownership correlates with domestic homicides, but — notably — it has no correlation with homicides outside the home. Kivisto and his co-authors explain that by suggesting “it is plausible that nondomestic firearm homicides are driven more by street-related violence where perpetrators are more likely to illegally obtain their weapons.”
In other words, aside from domestic homicides, violent perpetrators are generally obtaining weapons outside the reach of gun laws. This means that if you’re going to spend political capital to change laws, the best way to make a difference could be making it illegal for people to own guns after they have demonstrated threatening behavior toward partners and family members.
But when it comes to people who leave home and commit violence, they’re having little trouble finding guns through illicit channels. It doesn’t seem like a few policy tweaks would change that.
FedEx shooting:As mass shootings mount, enacting stricter gun laws is the morally right thing to do
It’s impossible to address the gun used in the FedEx incident with much specificity. As of this writing, law enforcement officials have described the shooter’s weapon only as a “rifle.” But we have a general idea of how people obtain weapons.
A 2016 survey of 287,400 inmates who possessed a firearm during crimes that resulted in their incarceration found that only about 7% of them purchased guns under their own names from licensed firearm dealers, according to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report. More than half of the prisoners stole their guns, 43% purchased them on the black market and 25% received them either from family members or as gifts. (Only 0.8% bought them at gun shows.)
This data seems to support Kivisto’s finding that a state’s official gun ownership rate isn’t necessarily related to homicides. Yet, the widespread availability of guns is connected to America’s permissive laws.
The stolen guns and the underground market didn’t just spring from nowhere. Those guns started out as products manufactured for legitimate buyers and slipped into the wrong hands somewhere along the way.
The only way to suppress that market is to take steps that are political nonstarters in the U.S.: Make private gun ownership much more restrictive, if not outright unlawful.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that is the right approach. Even if I were, it wouldn’t matter. A majority of Americans support stricter gun laws, but that preference is largely constrained to tightening background checks, as Hogsett called for. There is no public appetite for sweeping gun control laws.
Indianapolis FedEx massacre:Workplace violence is rare
Indiana is going in the opposite direction. As IndyStar’s Kaitlin Lange reported, there were at least 18 bills pertaining to firearms filed in the current Indiana General Assembly session, most of which were drafted to make some facet of gun ownership easier.
Meanwhile, opponents of expanded gun access (mostly Democrats) are calling for incremental restrictions because that is the only viable political path to change. But incrementalism, even if it could result in passable legislation, can’t drain America’s sea of guns.
Any Democrat who is fed up with inaction should be prepared to tell people at the Indy 1500 Gun & Knife Show that the government needs to shut the whole thing down in order to rein in America’s culture and stop the violence. If they’re not ready to go there — and they’re not — then they’re not ready to do something.
The hobbyists and hunters gathering at the fairgrounds are one side of America’s peculiar gun culture. The carnage at FedEx is the other side. A society can’t celebrate guns without also feeling their tragedy. We embrace one and accept the other.
On days like this, our acceptance leaves us with nothing more than thoughts and prayers.
James Briggs is the metro columnist at the IndyStar, where this column originally appeared. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesEBriggs.