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Game Over: What Happened in Jacksonville, and Why is America Plagued by Persistent Gun Violence?

This wasn’t the story I was planning to write today, though I probably should be more prepared to write these stories more often. As of now, two are dead and eleven are injured after a gunman opened fire on his fellow gamers at a video game tournament in Jacksonville, Florida. Not only are Florida gamers reeling from this tragedy, but so are gamers throughout the nation who had to experience the shooting via a live stream.

Though we already know how this was allowed to happen, we can’t forget why this is the ugliest of preventable crises.

What happened in Jacksonville?
Cover photo by Jonathan Zander, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia

Yesterday was supposed to be an action-packed day, as the Jacksonville Landing was hosting a  Madden NFL 2019 tournament. This tournament was a qualifying match for a higher-level tournament here in Las Vegas, and the event was being live streamed on Twitch, an online video platform that’s popular with gamers. While observers were giving play-by-play color commentary on Twitch, they saw a red laser beam being pointed at one of the players, then heard the sound of gunshots. The gunman began shooting after he lost a game, though he had already packed a handgun in his bag before he left for the tournament.

This shooting occurred less than 48 hours after Jacksonville endured another shooting at a high school football game that left one dead and two injured, and Jacksonville Landing had just hosted a community meeting on gun violence prevention that was organized by the local March for Our Lives chapter.

Why Florida (again)?
Photo by Andrew Davey

This isn’t the first time Florida has made international headlines due to gun violence. In 2012, Trayvon Martin was shot dead in Sanford (near Orlando) for committing the heinous act of wearing a hoodie while carrying candy and a bottle of iced tea. That same year, Jordan Davis was shot dead outside a Jacksonville gas station because “loud music”. In 2016, Orlando experienced (what was at the time) the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history when a gunman killed 49 people at Pulse Nightclub, a local LGBTQ+ friendly venue. And in February 2018, the nation was shocked by the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland (near Fort Lauderdale) that killed 17 students and staff.

Photo by Andrew Davey

These are just a few of the many acts of gun violence that have plagued the Sunshine State. While the Parkland Shooting prompted the Republican-run Legislature to pass a modest package of gun safety reforms, Florida still has a very loose set of gun laws. The state does not require background checks for all gun purchases (though counties are allowed to require such), does not impose any restrictions on military-grade assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, does not require safe storage of guns and ammunition, and does allow some perpetrators in shootings to argue that they acted in “self-defense” against a “perceived threat” (this is the now infamous “Stand Your Ground” law).

Though Florida’s gun fatality statistics fall in the middle of the pack, they’re significantly higher than other states with similarly large, urbanized populations (such as California and New York). Keep in mind that dozens of other states have also maintained lax gun laws, all ten of the top ten states with the worst gun death rates have some of the nation’s loosest gun laws, and that the nation overall has the 31st highest rate of gun violence in the world (far higher than other developed countries, such as Japan, Canada, and the U.K.).

What (else) will it take for us to properly address this epidemic?
Photo by Andrew Davey

It’s been nearly 11 months since we suffered the (current) deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history here in Las Vegas. Just in the past year, we’ve witnessed mass shootings targeting a country music festival, a small town church, multiple schools, a newspaper, and now a video game tournament as well. And those are just the mass shootings that have attained national media attention. Even when the TV cameras are not rolling, communities across the country are still grappling with various forms of gun violence, from domestic violence related shootings to suicide by gun.

Make no mistake: This is a very serious problem in need of comprehensive and serious solutions. So what are we doing about it, besides the typical “thoughts and prayers” that result in no real action? When will we at least have a serious debate on changing the gun laws that enable such rampant violence?

Photo by Andrew Davey

Yesterday, a group of gamers gathered at Jacksonville Landing for what they thought would be a fun day of video games. Instead, they were subjected to horrific violence. This is not a game any more, and it’s long past time for us as a society to recognize that… And actually do something about it.

Cover photo by Daniel Vorndran, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Wikimedia.

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