Atlanta spa shootings revive calls for gun reform: 'This moment has to be different'

The murders of eight people at three Atlanta-area spas last week have led to renewed calls for change from gun reform advocates, who are imploring lawmakers to take “comprehensive” action.

Their pleas now come as the nation is rocked by yet another deadly act of gun violence in Boulder, Colorado.

“One of the hardest parts about being a survivor of gun violence is having to keep showing up. It’s learning how to publicly relive the worst moment of your life, over and over again, in the hopes that someday someone with power to do something will hear you,” Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, said on a call with reporters Monday.

“I escaped Pulse nightclub through a fire exit when a man, fueled by hatred and armed with a weapon of war, charged in the front door and opened fire,” Wolf said, adding that his best friends were among the 49 people killed that day, and “took 19 rounds between the two of them.”

“It’s hard for me to wrap my head around this, but I have been waiting five years for someone to take action,” Wolf said. “This moment has to be different. We have to condemn violent racist and hateful rhetoric, especially when it’s coming from people in positions of power.”

“We have to stop making it so easy for people with a history of hate-fueled violence to get their hands on firearms,” he added.

PHOTO: Jessica Lang pauses and places her hand on the door in a moment of grief after dropping off flowers with her daughter at Youngs Asian Massage parlor where four people were killed in Acworth, Ga., March 17, 2021.

Ultimately, Wolf said, last week’s shootings in Atlanta underscores that “change cannot wait.”

A uniquely American crisis

The gun homicide rate in the U.S. is 25 times higher than in other high-income countries, according to a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Medicine.

There have been 245 mass shootings in the U.S. since 2009, according to data compiled by the advocacy group Everytown For Gun Safety. Mass shootings are defined as any incident in which four or more people are shot and killed, excluding the shooter. Still, more than 99% of gun deaths in the U.S. are from shootings other than mass shootings, according to the report.

“The bottom line is that hate exists everywhere in the world. Americans’ unfettered access to weapons makes that hate lethal,” Kris Brown, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, told ABC News. “It is horribly tragic that it takes the highly public murder of eight people to prompt that conversation, but we owe it to ourselves to have it again and again and again — and to hold Congress accountable.”

Six out of the eight victims in the Atlanta shootings were Asian women, and the deadly rampage occurred as anti-Asian hate incidents have skyrocketed nationwide. Local police stated that the suspect claimed the shootings were not racially motivated — but they have nonetheless struck new fear in Asian American communities.

“We’re seeing an outpouring of concern about what feels like an intersection of racism, misogyny and, frankly, white supremacy, that when combined with firearms are far too often lethal in this country,” Brown said. “Members of the AAPI community have warned for many years, but particularly in the past year, that racism and racist rhetoric targeting AAPI people threatens their safety, and we’ve seen hate incidents targeting Asian Americans rise in the last year.”

Brown noted that while the investigation into the white gunman’s motive is still ongoing, “We can’t ignore how the shooter could so quickly and easily purchase a firearm, and just hours later murder eight people.”

Police said the suspect, identified as Robert Aaron Long, purchased the gun on the same day of the shooting spree.

Long’s lawyer, J. Daran Burns, said in a statement last week his firm was working to “conduct a thorough investigation on our client’s behalf.”

PHOTO: Sasha Hasanbegovic looks down after laying flowers at a makeshift memorial outside the Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, March 19, 2021.

Waiting periods for firearm purchases — which are currently in place in a handful of states but not in Georgia — may have prevented the tragedy, some advocates have said in response to the spa shootings. Waiting periods are intended to prevent impulsive acts of gun violence and require a certain number of days to elapse between the purchase of a gun and when the buyer can take possession of it.

“Essentially, waiting periods save lives, because they give time for seeing the warning signs that can become tragedies,” Shannon Watts, the founder of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action, told ABC News.

‘We need multi-faceted, comprehensive solutions’

Advocates, however, also stress that lawmakers need to address the nation’s gun violence epidemic with more than just one-off responses each time a mass shooting occurs.

“If you look at car accidents and the way that we reduce deaths in automobiles, it was not just one single law,” Watts said. “There were seatbelts and speed limits and enhanced car technology. It was a whole host of things. We haven’t even tried trying to do that when it comes to reducing gun deaths, at least at the federal level.”

Watts stressed that she believes gun legislation in the U.S. needs to come from the federal level, saying, “We’re all only as safe as the closest state with the weakest gun laws.”

Brown added that there is “no one solution when we have an epidemic.”

PHOTO: A woman yells during a demonstration following the deadly shootings at three spas in Atlanta, March 18, 2021.

“We have 100 people a day who are having their lives ended by gun violence,” she added, citing an analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. “We need multi-faceted, comprehensive solutions. It’s not just one or two policies that need to be enacted.”

As firearm sales spike amid pandemic, advocates warn of ‘vicious cycle’

Firearm sales have skyrocketed amid the pandemic, according to data from the FBI’s background check system. While comprehensive statistics on gun buyers aren’t available, many reports have said that gun-buying among Asian Americans has also ticked up due to fears of racial biases related to the pandemic and the Trump administration’s rhetoric while the former president was in office.

Advocates say while they understand the fear, studies have shown that access to a gun triples the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide, according to an Everytown analysis. Moreover, access to a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.

“If more guns and fewer gun laws were the answer, we’d be the safest country in the world,” Watts said. She said she also believes that anytime there’s “chaos or concern or a national emergency,” gun sellers will capitalize on that fear and are there “waiting and willing to sell guns to the victims.”

“All it does is create this vicious cycle of gun deaths in this country,” Watts added.

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