The small, close-knit community of Dadeville, Alabama is reeling from a mass shooting this past weekend at a “sweet 16” birthday party which left four young people dead, 28 people injured – including at least 15 teenagers, five critically.
Once again, family, friends and associates of the victims are left bereft at the senseless violence that has torn through their community. According to his family, Philstavious Dowdell, 18, was killed while pushing his sister, Alexis, out of the way of bullets when a gunman opened fire at her 16th birthday. Shaunkivia Smith, 17, Marsiah Collins, 19, and Corbin Holston, 23, were also killed.
“It was a nightmare I don’t wish on anyone … to see my baby in a pile of blood,” said Latonya Allen, mother of Philstavious “Phil” Dowdell, during an interview on CNN.
Allen said on BBC that her son made her proud “in every way.”
“A piece of my heart is ripped out. He was supposed to graduate next month. Instead of me going to graduation I’ll be going to the cemetery to see my son,” she said.
According to the BBC, the oldest of three siblings, Phil Dowdell, 18, was remembered by those in the community as a star athlete and a loyal friend. He was preparing to go to Jacksonville State University on a sports scholarship.
Alexis Dowdell was celebrating her 16th birthday at a dance studio in rural Dadeville when Phil Dowdell came to get her after hearing that someone at the party had a gun. Allen had also heard the rumors and she said she turned on the lights, went to the DJ booth, and asked whoever had a firearm to leave the party. No one responded and Allen turned off the lights. Gunfire barked out shortly after.
“All of a sudden you hear gunshots, and you just see everybody running towards the door and people falling and screaming,” Alexis told the BBC.
Alexis told CNN her brother saved her life when he pushed her out of the way when the shooting started.
Officials from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency said Tuesday that no one was in custody and to the community’s chagrin offered little information despite community outrage. Law enforcement officials said they had strong leads and urged patience as they continued the investigation.
There have been more mass shootings in the United States than days that have passed in 2023. According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), America has suffered more than 160 mass shootings in the first 16 weeks of this year. GVA characterizes mass shootings as those in which four or more people are shot, not including the shooter.
Experts note that these figures illustrate a historically quick start for mass shootings in 2023. With every mass shooting, more Americans are demanding that Congress and state lawmakers institute sensible gun control measures. But there is a curious and maddening dance that has become commonplace.
Democrats, their allies and others are fighting to limit what is unfettered access to a range of guns, including AR-15 and other assault weapons that are lethal in their damage to anyone at the wrong end of these firearms. Republican governors and state legislators – who many critics castigate as being wholly owned subsidiaries of the National Rifle Association – have continued to ignore public demands for them to pass legislation to stamp out the scourge of gun violence. Instead, for example, lawmakers in Florida, Texas and elsewhere have voted after mass shootings to loosen gun laws, allowing permit less carry.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed this bill into law behind closed doors surrounded by several gun lobbyists. Florida is the 26th state to have enacted laws allowing residents to carry concealed firearms without a permit. The proposal had been endorsed by the Florida Sheriffs Association and its 67 elected sheriffs across the state. But a number of polls indicate that a majority of Floridians oppose the policy, and other surveys show that Florida voters overwhelmingly support other sensible gun safety measures including universal background checks and mandatory waiting periods.
But not everyone in law enforcement supports what DeSantis and the Republican-dominated legislature. The Guardian quoted Orange County Sheriff John Mina.
“It’s not going to make our communities safer. “It’s going to make them more dangerous,” Mina said.
According to The Guardian, research suggests that removing the permitting requirement to carry concealed guns may instead contribute to a rise in violent crime. A 2019 study found that states saw an increase of 13 percent to 15 percent in violent crime rates in the years after regulations on carrying concealed firearms were loosened.
Supporters of gun control regulation aren’t backing down. The Tennessee state house has been the flashpoint of the fight to curb the proliferation of weapons. Following a school shooting on March 27 at The Covenant School in Nashville where a heavily armed gunman killed three children and three adults, State Reps. Justin Pearson, Gloria Johnson and Justin Jones protested on the House floor.
The “Tennessee Three” chanted “no action, no peace” through a megaphone during a March 30 protest at the same time that thousands of pro-gun control demonstrators made their way to the statehouse. Jones and Pearson banged on the House lectern as they made stirring speeches and pointed their statements and chants to protesters who were crowded in the House’s public viewing gallery.
“We don’t want to be up here, but we have no choice but to find a way... to disrupt business as normal, because business as normal is our children dying,” Pearson said.
In response, Republicans voted 72-25 to oust Jones and 69-26 to remove Justin Pearson because the three “brought disorder and dishonor to the House.” The men were reinstated the following week and Republicans have inadvertently made them into national heroes and drum majors for gun safety and gun control.
In the aftermath of these mass shootings, the majority of the American public have made strident calls for tighter gun control measures, but the US Supreme Court has blocked a number of restrictions including prohibiting stocks and the ability to buy high-capacity magazines.
President Joe Biden has spoken out continually about the need for stronger action.
He has said, “I once again urge both chambers of Congress to act quickly and deliver this assault weapons ban to my desk, and take action to keep American communities, schools, workplaces, and homes safe.”