Florida Highway patrolmen block the entrance to the Main Street Bridge near the scene of a mass shooting at Jacksonville (File) Image Credit: AP

“A country free of this anxiety and terror and trauma” are words of anguish spoken by Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones who went on to declare that Americans “don’t have to live this way” following a racially motivated killing of three African American individuals at a store in Jacksonville, Florida last week.

The killer, a 21-year-old white male armed with an automatic rifle and handgun and outfitted like he was preparing for combat in Iraq or Afghanistan made his way to the budget store and upon spotting a black man out in the parking lot, shot him in cold blood.

He then walked in the store and shot at two other black people killing them instantly before turning the gun on himself and taking his life. Just before he died, he texted his father to check his computer on which there were ‘several written manifestoes’ upholding white supremacist ideology and a hatred of all people of colour.

Following the shooting, the sheriff of the community declared, “This is a dark day in Jacksonville’s history. There is no place for hate in this community ... I am sickened by this cowardly shooter’s personal ideology.”

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A senseless act

But he was not alone in his condemnation. US House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries wrote: “We will never bend the knee to violent extremists who worship at the altar of white supremacy,” while South Carolina Senator, and GOP presidential candidate, Tim Scott wrote that he was “devastated” at the senseless act. “There is nothing more hateful than murdering someone because of the colour of their skin; violence of any kind has no place in our country,” he wrote.

Florida’s lax gun laws came under fire by Shannon Watts, founder of gun control advocacy group Moms Demand Action, who pointed out recent gun legislation that went into effect in the state: “Florida’s lax gun laws — like permitless carry — make it easy for criminals and white supremacists to access guns.”

US gun violence
Image Credit: Gulf News

Although Florida Governor Ron DeSantis condemned the shooting, it was he who over objections from many quarters signed a law last April, which went into effect on 1 July allowing anyone who can legally own a gun in Florida to carry a concealed gun without a permit, and does not require training or a background check. The shooting drew a scathing prompt from Florida Democratic Rep Maxwell Frost, who pointed the finger at the governor.

“A racist bigot walked into a store to murder Black people. A racist bigot felt comfortable enough to walk into a store to murder Black people. The far-right fascist movement, embraced by Gov @RonDeSantis, is murdering people,” he tweeted.

Hate crimes in the United States

Recent data shows an increase in hate crimes in the United States. According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, hate crime incidents rose to the highest level in 12 years in 2020, with more than 10,000 people reporting being victims of hate crimes. Furthermore, the Department of Justice reported an 11.6% increase in hate crime incidents in 2021 compared to the previous year.

It is important to note that these statistics and examples reflect a broader trend of rising hate crimes in the United States. Efforts to combat hate crimes and promote inclusivity and tolerance are necessary to address this issue. But that is not going to happen if the polarisation currently in America continues.

We have seen hate crimes in other parts of the world but the US is steadily gaining on them to be the hotbed of racially motivated violence. And guns are the vehicle used to promote such hateful ideology.

One just has to look at our region in the GCC to see that such events are totally alien to us. To my knowledge, I have never come across a news item describing an outburst of gunfire killing others because of their race.

The reason? Primarily because guns are not easily available and the laws against taking lives indiscriminately are very clear. Nor are their politicians pushing their personal agendas to push people to buy more guns.

Yes, guns alone do not kill people, but left in the hands of men with an axe to grind, the outcome is nothing short of tragic.

— Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena