As another community goes through the well-worn process of coping with a mass shooting, another member of Congress caught a plane home to stand behind first responders as they recounted the horrid details of the day.
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch was the unfortunate lawmaker on Wednesday afternoon, as his was the district that includes the Parkland high school where 17 people were shot and killed. It’s a macabre club that the Florida Democrat joined. This year, 28 different congressional districts have experienced a mass shooting.
That comes on the heels of 2017, when the numbers were equally staggering. That year, more than 180 congressional districts—roughly 40 percent of the House of Representatives—experienced a mass shooting, according to a Daily Beast analysis using data and research compiled by the Gun Violence Archive. The group defines a mass shooting as four or more people shot, not necessarily killed, in an incident.
In reality, 180 is likely a conservative estimate. Some of the shootings took place almost indistinguishably close to the neighboring district. In other cases, the address where the shooting occurred was imprecise, making it hard to definitively determine which district the incident took place in.
But the numbers still illustrate the grim reality of America: Gun violence knows few boundaries.
That Congress has failed to move legislation in response to persistence of mass shootings is not because they are only taking place in areas represented by Democrats. Indeed, about 55 percent of the mass shootings in 2017 occurred in Democratic districts, which tend to include more urban areas, while 45 percent were in Republican districts.
While each of the shootings was written up in local press, only a few made national news. They occurred most commonly in cities like Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis where law enforcement has been grappling for years to curb gun violence. In some cases, representatives from the afflicted areas have become so familiar with the violence, that it’s become hard to think of them as mass shootings so much as manifestations of a broken society.
Rep. Danny Davis’ (D-IL) Chicago district is one of the most violent in the country. He said poverty was the primary cause of the bloodshed.
“The seventh congressional district is made up of a large number of people who migrated from rural South, they are poor, uneducated, impoverished plus the seventh district at one time used to be home to thousands of jobs, practically all of them are gone,” said Davis.
“So what we have seen, not only in the area known as the seventh district but in basically inner city Chicago... poverty has been the primary motivator of the mass shootings in the seventh district,” he said. “Education, job development, creation of opportunity really is the cure and it has not happened.”
In some Memphis neighborhoods violence may come without warning but it’s not unexpected. In January, two people were killed and two others were injured during a drive-by shooting. Witnesses told WMC Action News 5 the victims had returned from a funeral when they were shot.
“I can’t believe that stuff,” Antonio Benson told the local news station. “Stuff happens so fast. You just got to be careful out here.”
Asked about the mass shootings in his Memphis-area district, Rep. Steve Cohen initially paused, taking in the enormity of the human toll.
“I think there is a kind of numbness to it,” Cohen told The Daily Beast. “In Memphis, it’s friends, it’s family stuff, sometimes it’s violence, gang murders.
“It’s a lot of people with no purpose, no meanings, and no value of life, a lot of it… people are disconnected in so many ways,” he said. “Some of that disconnection is because of the social media that’s made people less interpersonal and more relating to, and more relating to impersonal non-real sites so I think they don’t relate to the suffering they cause or the victims they create.”
In addition to better gun laws, Cohen said values also need to change—a task, he admitted, that was harder to define let alone legislate.
“And how you get the values back, it’s tough, I don’t know,” he said. “Education is part of it, jobs, people having families is important, it gives you something to live for.”
But gun violence is far from the exclusive purview of America’s cities. In 2017, mass shootings took place in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Clovis, New Mexico; Alexandria, Virginia; and Madison, Maine.
“It’s a wonderful community, Douglas High School is one of the best high schools in the state of Florida,” Deutch told MSNBC Wednesday afternoon. “I visit often, I was there just a few weeks ago talking to students—the kids are remarkable, the teachers are dedicated and committed, the parents are involved in the schools, if you had to describe a perfect place to live and raise a family this would be it, and yet here we are talking about another school shooting right in the midst of all of this.
“It shouldn’t have to happen in your own community for you to care about it,” he said.