This is what America is.
There’s a common TV trope where shows start with the end and then spend the rest of the episode unfurling the content that took place in the hours before that “ending.” I’m going to deploy that trope now. Here’s what’s going to happen as a result of yet another insanely tragic and tragically insane school shooting. Nothing. This is America’s most popular and sickly unique story. Don’t take my word for it. Listen to Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. “I guess it’s something in society we know will happen again, over and over.” Even Sandy Hook didn’t change anything. But there’s plenty more evidence. Here’s a chronological list of school shootings in the United States since the year 2000. I should warn you that your trigger finger might get sore from all the scrolling, so you might want to use your non-shooting hand. The last school shooting on the list (for now) is the one that took place in Uvalde. The Texas child massacre was the second-deadliest school shooting on record. Spoiler alert: it won’t hold that spot forever. We know that because this is what America is. Societal sociopathy is our brand. Our national pastime is letting kids be killed and doing nothing about it. Just check the numbers. Firearms are now the leading cause of death for U.S. children.
In Uvalde, in addition to two dead teachers, 19 kids, all around ten years-old, were shot to death by a now-deceased teen who was bullied as a child and bought himself some guns on his 18th birthday. All of those kids were murdered in the same 4th grade classroom. The children will be mourned and the unthinkable pain being experienced by their moms and dads will leave a deepening pit in the stomach of every parent. But when it comes to leadership and laws, this classroom will ultimately be dismissed. We know that because we’ve seen this show before. The news alerts flash across our iPhones. The cable news channels turn the tragedy into some bizarre form of macabre entertainment with constant coverage of details and insights that don’t really matter. And to what end? Because when someone senselessly kills your child, you need the closure of telling Don Lemon or Anderson Cooper how you feel about it in between commercial breaks?
A president, assuming we have a sane one in office at the time of the shooting, will channel our sadness and outrage as Joe Biden did: “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen?” (Those are the questions we citizens are asking. But, I mean, he’s the effing president.)
Great people who could choose to remain silent will instead yell, Enough! and remind us that we know who is to blame for our deranged values. Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a guy who lost a parent to gun violence, had tears in his eyes as he laid it all out. Kerr asked the 50 Senators who block votes on gun control: ” Are you going to put your own power ahead of the lives of children?” But Kerr knows the answer. It’s already being answered by Senators like Thom Tillis who explained, “It’s horrible. And you know what we need to avoid is the reflexive reaction we have to say this could all be solved by not having guns in anyone’s hands. We can always talk about reasonable measures, but we also have to talk about better situational awareness.” Here’s the situation we’re aware of: When the book about America’s demise is written, these regular mass school shootings will make up a large chapter. And no one will be able to figure out how a wealthy democracy could be a bystander to this sickening rot and do nothing. Like the rest of us, Steve Kerr doesn’t need the usual hogwash from Thom Tillis to know that when it comes to letting kids be murdered in large numbers in our schools, enough is never enough.
Thinking, feeling politicians will give voice to our frustration. Chris Murphy did that, and did it well. “This isn’t inevitable. These kids weren’t unlucky. This only happens in this country and nowhere else. It is a choice. It is our choice to let it continue … Spare me the bullshit about mental illness. We don’t have any more mental illness than any other country in the world. You cannot explain this through a prism of mental illness because we’re not an outlier on mental illness … We’re an outlier when it comes to access to firearms and the ability of criminals and very sick people to get their arms on firearms. That’s what makes America different.”
Journalists like David Frum will remind us who put the murder weapons into the hands of this child killer and the many who preceded him and the many more who will follow. “Who put the weapon of mass murder into his hand? The answer to that question is that the public policy of this country armed him. Every other democracy makes some considerable effort to keep guns away from dangerous people, and dangerous people away from guns. For many years — and especially since the massacre at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School almost a decade ago — the United States has put more and more guns into more and more hands: 120 guns per 100 people in this country.”
And I’ll play my role. I’ll write a few paragraphs to make you feel what you’re supposed to be feeling right now. That’s my job. I know it’ll work because I’m a pretty good writer and as someone who covers the news in America, this is a topic I’ve had a lot of practice writing about. But I also know these words won’t make any real difference and that soon I’ll have to come up with a creative new way to cover the next school shooting.
Maybe my opening was a bit misleading. I suggested nothing would happen to our gun laws following this latest slaughter. Something will happen. The gun laws will get worse. After all, a year before Uvalde school shooting, Texas expanded gun rights. Believe that, not the thoughts and prayers. And soon, the Supreme Court’s “New York State Rifle decision, which is expected by the end of June, could make the rules even looser. It has the potential to be the most significant — and, depending on how broadly it is written, most disastrous — gun-law decision in a decade.”
So we’re left with a question. In today’s America, is anyone safe from gun violence? Yes. Trump is delivering an address at the NRA’s Annual Leadership Forum on Friday, during which audience members won’t be able to carry guns. But don’t worry. They can get right back to shooting up schools as soon as the speech is over.