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Victim’s mother: ‘Don’t be numb’ to gun deaths

by The Associated Press | January 30, 2023 at 4:00 a.m.
FILE - Police block the street to a house where three people were killed and four others wounded in a shooing at a short-term rental home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood on Saturday Jan. 28, 2023. The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m. in the Beverly Crest neighborhood. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) -- Increasingly it feels like America is at war with itself.

In New Orleans, just days into the new year, a 14-year-old girl was shot to death, along with her father and uncle. A few days after, in a Virginia classroom, a 6-year-old boy pulled out a gun and shot his first-grade teacher. That news was eclipsed by a mass shooting at a California dance studio last weekend that left 11 people dead. A day later and a few hundred miles away, a farmworker opened fire in a beachside town, killing seven coworkers. Three more were killed and four wounded in a shooting at a short-term rental home in an an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood early Saturday.

Just keeping track of all the shootings has become overwhelming, with the locations, circumstances and the names of the victims running together into a seemingly endless trail of bloodshed and grief.

And many Americans are deeply pessimistic that anything will soon change. When President Joe Biden signed a bill last year to fight gun violence -- the first such measure to pass Congress in a generation -- a substantial majority supported it. But 78 percent said they believed it would do little or nothing at all, a survey by the Pew Research Center found.

The sheer number of killings and the glacial pace of the political response "breeds a sense of powerlessness and despair," said Pedro Noguera, the dean of the school of education at the University of Southern California and a sociologist who has studied gun violence for more than two decades.

"I don't think anybody feels good about where we are at -- even gun enthusiasts," he said.

But if all that might make you think America has gone numb to gun violence, Zeneta Everhart would disagree. Fiercely.

Everhart's then-19-year-old son, Zaire, was working his part-time job at a Buffalo supermarket last May when a gunman stormed in, looking for Black people to kill. Ten died in the attack. Zaire was shot in the neck but survived.

"I don't think that the country is becoming numb to it, but I think that the country is frustrated," she said. "I think that people are tired."

"You know, we don't want to hear about this. We don't want to hear about our children dying by gun violence, and we don't want to hear about our seniors" who were killed in the California studio attack. "How awful. How heartbreaking."

But that makes Everhart and others even more determined to find ways to stem the violence.

The month after the supermarket shooting, she and other victims' relatives went to Washington, D.C., testifying before a House committee about the need for gun safety legislation. Two weeks later, Biden signed the gun violence bill.

That success, and her son's continuing recovery, keep her energized.

But in a country where attitudes about guns and violence are often contradictory, charting a course of action makes for uneasy calculus.

Overall, 71 percent of Americans say gun laws should be stricter, according to a 2022 poll by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. But in the same poll, 52 percent said it is also highly important to protect Americans' right to own guns for personal safety.

Last year's gun violence law was designed to incrementally toughen requirements for young people to buy guns, deny firearms to more domestic abusers and help local authorities temporarily take weapons from people judged to be dangerous. Most of its $13 billion cost would go to bolster mental health programs and for schools. This year, though, the number of shooting deaths are already deeply discouraging.

The nation's first mass shooting last year happened on Jan 23. By the same date this year, the nation had already endured six mass shootings, leaving 39 people dead, according to a database compiled by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. It tracks every attack in the U.S. that has claimed at least four lives, not including the shooter's, since 2006.

Eight months after the Buffalo supermarket attack, doctors have been unable so far to remove all the bullet fragments lodged inside the body of Everhart's son, some of them dangerously close to vital organs. But his survival motivates her to keeping pushing government for change, and she urges others not to give up fighting when they hear about yet another shooting.

"Don't be numb to this," she said. "This should hurt you. You should feel something."

  photo  Zeneta Everhart stands outside a Tops supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on Jan. 27, 2023. Ten people were killed in the store in May 2022 after a gunman entered targeting Black people. Everhart's then-19-year-old son survived after being shot in the neck. “You know, we don’t want to hear about this. We don’t want to hear about our children dying by gun violence, and we don’t want to hear about our seniors” who were killed in the California studio attack. “How awful. How heartbreaking.” (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted)

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