Gun Laws: What We’re Doing is Not Working
On March 25, 1911, 123 women and 23 men, young Italian and Jewish immigrants mostly, packed lunch boxes and left for shift work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, 23–29 Washington Place in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.
They never returned.
Many were singed alive, some chose to jump from the ninth and tenth floors before dying of smoke inhalation. Among the dead, 14-year-olds Kate Leone and Rosaria Maltese.
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is the deadliest industrial incident in New York City’s history. In total, 143 people died.
More than 100 years later, Sunday night, Americans witnessed in horror the largest mass shooting in the nation’s modern history. Affluent white retiree Stephen Paddock rained hundreds of bullets into a jubilant crowd of thousands gathered on the Las Vegas strip watching country music star Jason Aldean.
The death count has almost reached 60, authorities report, and more than 500 innocent men and women have been injured.
Since then, the usual crowd of politicians, state, and local officials have paraded through press briefings providing solemn updates, offering warm condolences, best wishes, heartfelt prayers.
Meanwhile, the American public is in shock, refreshing news sites for the latest headlines, wringing hands hoping without hope. Hoping that somehow this will all be a nightmare. Hoping that we’ll wake up tomorrow to a brighter day, a day in which all of this never happened.
But it did. And nothing will change that. The horrific reality is staring us in the face.
So we focus on the stories of survivors, and those who sacrifice for others; tales of heroism, defiance and bravery in the face of pure evil. But no one suspected Paddock was particularly evil, including his family.
Just like no one suspected Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold before the Columbine High School massacre; Seung-Hui Cho prior to the Virginia Tech massacre; Adam Lanza before he fatally shot and killed 20 6 and 7 year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School students; Dylann Roof before the Charleston church massacre.
No one will suspect the perpetrator of the next shooting, either. Or the next after that; or the one after that; or the one after that; or the one after that; or the one after that; until something changes.
Already since the Las Vegas massacre eight people across the United States, in separate incidences, have been killed, according to Gun Violence Archive.
And Paddock’s shooting spree wasn’t exclusive beforehand. Earlier Sunday The Lawrence Journal-World reported that just before 1:40 a.m. 22-year-old Leah Elizabeth Brown, 20-year-old Colwin Lynn Henderson, and 24-year-old Tremel Dupree Dean were fatally shot and killed in downtown Lawrence, Kansas.
Their names didn’t make national news. And neither did thousands of the 11,680 people and counting killed in shooting incidents this year, as documented by the gun violence site. Of those, 272 are listed as mass shootings based on federal definitions.
In the months and years following the 1911 fire in New York, federal authorities cracked down on unsafe work practices. It was discovered, as was common in that day, building owners locked exit doors to prevent workers from taking breaks when they weren’t supposed to.
Safety standards emerged. In the city, a Committee on Public Safety was formed to lobby for new legislation. From that, a Factory Investigating Commission was created to investigate conditions at other factories, ensuring such a tragedy didn’t happen again. The city’s fire department identified 200 other, similar factories.
Legislature enacted fireproofing requirements, and readily available fire extinguishers, fire escapes, automatic sprinkler systems, cleaner eating areas, improved toilets, limited work hours for women and children.
Top-down change happened. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire remains the deadliest industrial fire in U.S. history.
A little more than a year before the Las Vegas massacre, Omar Mateen shot and killed 49 people, injuring many others, at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Before Sunday, that was the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history.
There has been no significant change in gun safety standards since Columbine, 1999. That’s 20 years of intensifying violence with no substantial actions.
What we’re doing is not working.
If Americans expect different outcomes, we must enact reasonable federal safety laws to protect our friends, family, fellow citizens, from the next massacre. We must learn from the past, and change our behavior. If we don’t, we’ll again grieve the next mass shooting.