Celestine Chaney, 65.
Roberta Drury, 32.
Andre Mackneil, 53.
Katherine Massey, 72.
Margus Morrison, 52.
Heyward Patterson, 67.
Geraldine Talley, 62.
Ruth Whitfield, 86.
Pearl Young, 77.
And then there was Aaron Salter, a 55-year-old retired police officer. He spent his days after his time on the force greeting customers as they walked into the Tops supermarket in the Masten Park neighborhood of Buffalo. His job was security, and everyone knew him. And he knew everyone.
Well, not everybody, unfortunately. Not the monster who was tearing through the store’s parking lot on Saturday, using what police believe were illegally modified semi-automatic assault weapons, emblazoned with racist sentiments like, “Here’s your reparations.” While at first glance it seemed he was firing his weapon indiscriminately, authorities believe his targets were quite deliberate: anyone who was Black.
Salter had been trained to deal with this very scenario, an unfolding mass shooting. He had never come face to face with it, but he knew what he had to do — protect the lives of everyone around him, even if that meant taking the life of the man who threatened all of them.
Salter pulled his handgun from its holster and took aim. Police said he fired a number of shots, and hit the perpetrator at least once. Except the bullets didn’t stop him. They didn’t even slow him down. The young man was reportedly wearing body armor, protecting him from heroes like Salter.
The gunman reportedly turned his own gaze toward Salter — who did not have the benefit of protective armor — and pulled the trigger.
Another senseless mass shooting. No. 198, in fact, according to NPR and the Gun Violence Archive — in 2022. That’s right. Last Saturday was the 134th day of the year, yet this country has already had 198 mass shootings. They claimed the lives of 210 people, and forever changed the lives of 836 more who survived.
On Jan. 1 alone — New Year’s Day — the nation was victim to seven mass shootings, including one in Philadelphia that claimed the life of one person, and injured four others.
What happened in Buffalo is believed to be racially motivated. And as evidence continues to accumulate about the shooter, it’s hard to believe otherwise. And while tackling racism is a different discussion that needs far more space than we have here, the fact is that this is a nation where there are too many guns on the street, and more often than not, they are used to instantly destroy families, and communities.
The Philadelphia shooting wasn’t believed to be racially motivated. It was just a dispute, enhanced by alcohol, that turned deadly simply because a gun was available. It’s the kind of violence you almost never hear about anywhere else outside the U.S.
But here it’s something we expect on any day that ends with a "Y."
The alleged gunman in the Tops shooting is said to have illegally modified his primary weapon, a gun that’s perfectly legal in New York, holding no more than 10 rounds. But the modifications, illegal in New York, are legal in Pennsylvania, and this monster only needed to walk from his home in Binghamton across the state line to get what he needed. Legally.
Following the tragedy, many lawmakers took to social media and called up reporters to express their condolences and outrage. Gov. Kathy Hochul made the rounds on national television, preaching about the need for better gun control. But as quickly as those sentiments flare up, they just as quickly flame out. Over and over again, we get the same action aimed at ending this true pandemic: absolutely nothing.
That must end. The excuses must end. The silly arguments that any regular person needs a weapon that can instantly kill or maim a large number of people must be put to rest. The time for talk is over. The time to act is now.
Aaron Salter should have never spent the final moments of his life face to face with a monster. He had a distinguished career with the Buffalo Police Department, regularly putting his life on the line. Yet even a neighborhood supermarket proved to be more dangerous for him than some of the most violent hotspots in the world.
No more. Read their names again — Celestine Chaney. Roberta Drury. Andre Mackneil. Katherine Massey. Margus Morrison. Heyward Patterson. Aaron Salter. Geraldine Talley. Ruth Whitfield. Pearl Young. And remember them the next time you think there’s something more important than ending this nation’s gun crisis once and for all.