February 15, 2020
I’ve just read Bill Bryson’s latest book, The Road to Little Dribbling, in which he wanders around Britain, commenting on what he sees. The themes are first, how beautiful and varied are the landscape and many towns, neighborhoods or places — those which look as they did years ago — and second, the negative effect of “progress,” on other places or facilities, and finally, the ineptitude and stinginess of government in maintaining them. It would not be difficult to apply that theme to this country. We aren’t as well supplied with quaint towns, but many of our cities are in decline and, as to the landscape, consider what Trump and other barbarians want to do to public lands.
While I’m applying my leisure activity to politics, I’ll offer two quotes from a movie I watched a few nights ago, The American President. The fictional executive was having difficulty finding votes for a crime-prevention bill. His rueful comments: “You cannot address crime prevention without getting rid of assault weapons and handguns,” but “For reasons passing understanding, people do not relate guns to gun-related crime.” Have matters improved since the film was made in 1995?
Well, no. On January 15, the Transportation Safety Administration reported that 4,432 firearms were discovered in carry-on bags or on passengers last year, an average of more than 12 per day. That was an increase of approximately 4.5% from 2018, and a record high. Eighty-seven per cent were loaded. An email from Senator Schumer on December 17 noted that “in the seven years since Sandy Hook, there have been at least 2,322 mass shootings,” but that “President Trump, Sen. McConnell, and Senate Republicans have failed to act on the issue of gun violence, bowing repeatedly to the NRA and the hard right by choosing inaction or half measures over real, meaningful legislation.”
Here’s an illustration of the consequences of the glut of guns: A mass shooting usually is defined as one in which at least four are shot, not including the perpetrator. Seattle experienced such an event on January 22; one woman was killed, seven others were shot, including a nine year old boy. “At the shooting scene, police recovered 11 .380-caliber casings;” one of the shooters, now under arrest, “had used cash to purchase an extended magazine clip for a .380-caliber handgun 4½ hours before the Jan. 22 shootings.”16
The site of the mass shooting was described thus by The Seattle Times: “The area around Third Avenue and Pine Street has long been one of the grittiest in downtown Seattle.” By “gritty,” the author meant this: “The corridor is no stranger to violence, . . and open-air drug dealing is common there. Wednesday’s shooting happened near another shooting on Nov. 9, 2016, when five people were wounded outside a 7-Eleven on Third between Pike and Pine.” Also, “On Tuesday, a 55-year-old man was found dying from a gunshot wound in a stairwell at Westlake Center, less than a block away from Wednesday’s mayhem.”17 That history was almost as shocking to me as the report of the latest shooting.
I have lived in the suburbs for many years and now rarely am in downtown Seattle, but I grew up in Seattle and had an office there for many years. Third and Pine is in the commercial district; Macy’s is located at that intersection; when I knew it, it was not part of a zone of danger or dissolution. It is true that Seattle’s core, like many others, is in decline — Macy’s will close soon — but the shootings are a mark not merely of decline but of collapse.
16. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/girlfriend-of-third-and-pine-shooting-suspect-charged- with- rendering-criminal-assistance-is-now-wanted-on-a-250k-warrant/
17. https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/police-responding-to-shooting-near-4th-avenue-and- pine- street-reports-of-multiple-victims/