The news, as it broke during the evening, was increasingly awful.
A shooting at a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Multiple people shot.
At least several people dead from the gunshot wounds.
And then, eventually, the details that nine individuals had been shot to death during a Wednesday evening prayer service finally filtered out.
As the tragic, unfathomable, and flat-out awful story came together, accusations and assumptions began flying through the media. This was a hate crime. The suspected shooter, who is white, did this solely because the victims are black. This is all the fault of the gun industry. If guns weren’t available, none of this sort of thing would ever happen.
And we haven’t yet had an opportunity for the national media to dig into the background of accused gunman Dylann Roof, who was captured a few miles south of Mount Airy, in Shelby. In the weeks after Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2014 we learned he had a history of rather severe mental illnesses and that he never should have had access to firearms of any sort. Of course, politicians and many in the national media blamed that on the gun industry, too.
At this point, very little is actually known regarding the shooting in Charleston.
What we do know is that nine people lost their lives doing what many of us do routinely — while attending church.
We do know that’s a tragedy, and we believe 21-year-old Dylann Roof, of Lexington, South Carolina, was the shooter. He is suspected of walking into and later opening fire in, Emanuel AME Church, killing nine people in cold blood. The church is about a two hours’ drive from his home town.
Beyond that, authorities in that community have a lot of investigating to do. Until they do that, we know very little.
We really don’t know if this is a hate crime, or a case of a mental illness manifesting itself in a violent way. We don’t know if easy access to guns led to this crime (without guns, he might very well have put together some homemade explosives, which could have been even worse). We don’t know if he was upset over a girlfriend breaking up with him and acted out in this manner.
We just don’t know. And neither do the politicians, anti-gun lobbyist, gun lobbyist, NAACP, the President, the national media, the local media in Charleston, or most anyone else weighing in on this right now with nothing more than conjecture.
Yes, America does have a problem with race relations that, after decades of significant improvements, seems to be rearing its head more and more in violent, ugly ways in recent years.
Yes, we have significant holes in our approach to treating mental health issues, with the federal government pushing most of that down to the state level, state governments pushing it down to the local level, and local governments and health care simply not able to handle it.
And yes, we do have a problem with far-too-easy access to guns of all sorts, despite the constitutional guarantee of the right to bear arms (the founding fathers could not envision assault rifles, automatic weapons, and such easy access to handguns). Did one, or several, of those issues figure in to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston? Possibly. In all likelihood, probably so.
But at this point we don’t know, and making wild accusations — particularly when people of significant influence do so — serves no purpose other than to inflame passions and, possibly, lead to more violence.
For now, our society, and most importantly all the victims and their families, would best be served if people allowed law enforcement to do their due diligence, to conduct a thorough and sweeping investigation, before we start calling for this change or that.
The time for such actions will come, but it’s not today.