The pattern has become so familiar, it is almost as if TV networks have it in a box in a closet each time it happens - a random mass murder occurs, graphics are prepared, an appropriately somber musical number is scored, and reporters scramble to the site, accumulating knowledge about the shooter in fits and starts, interviewing survivors, highlighting a victim whose story is either tragic or heroic or senseless. Politicians express moral outrage, speak of healing and the nation as a family. We quickly grow accustomed to the briefings of law enforcement, first every few hours, then once a day, interwoven with the fast filling portrait of the lone gunman, by Facebook posts or comments by neighbors, long forgotten snippets from childhood, a teacher who might remember the killer as young boy, as we seek to glean motive or rationale for the evil that lurked within him.
A funeral is held, an appropriate level of solemnity is achieved, the gunman is buried (suicide or “death by cop” sometimes happens) or indicted and begins his long process through the criminal justice system and then .. and then, well, life goes back to normal, which is to say the camera crews pack up, the reporters return to their regularly scheduled work, the stories move to the back page of the paper or the end of the newscast before disappearing completely, the survivors are left to deal with their mental anguish, the families of the victims to grieve and mourn. The words that bubble up, "large capacity magazines," "assault weapons," "Kevlar," and others, float away because we have accepted these massacres as both freak occurrences and acts of lone wolves, failing to tie together the ease with which people can acquire not just guns, rifles, shotguns and assault rifles, but ammunition, bulletproof vests and other devices of mayhem to cause this level of destruction.
Of course, underlying our collective failure to act on random acts of violence are the dual forces of the "gun lobby" and our willful blindness to the daily, less publicized incidences of firearms-related killings, assaults and accidental deaths. Just three days before the mass killing in Aurora, a 2 year old who lived in Denver but was visiting his grandparents in Utah accidentally killed himself when he was left unattended, found his grandfather's gun, and pulled the trigger. Over one weekend in Chicago last month, 8 people were killed and 46 were wounded in a variety of gun-related crimes. On and on it goes. Consider that according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), between 2002-07, more than 182,000 people died in gun-related incidents, with 73,148 of those attributed to homicide. Was public policy changed in the wake of any of these, or the myriad incidents of gun-related death that could fill a Google search from now until the end of time? No.
The gun lobby has ingrained in the public's mind that the Second Amendment is inviolate (it's not). When Charlton Heston, as a leader of the NRA, said the government would pry a rifle from his "cold dead hands," it became an iconic moment in the history of that organization and the pithy thought that people kill people, guns don't kill people, is a car bumper sticker. The idea that MORE weapons will somehow make our society safer, not more dangerous, has taken root, and in many states, gun regulation has become lax, on everything from concealed weapons to where you are legally permitted to carry that concealed weapon. In Texas, your gun permit is an acceptable form of identification at the voting booth, but a student identification card is not.
The Supreme Court has held that certain firearms cannot be banned but others can. Further, it stated that some regulations of firearms pass constitutional muster (they even set up a handy, though somewhat tortured, "test" to determine same). So let's stop pretending that it is not possible to regulate guns. In fact, an assault weapons ban was passed in 1994, but when it came up for renewal in 2004, President Bush and the Republicans in Congress let it lapse. That law also banned, albeit with several easy to evade loopholes, the manufacture of large capacity magazines. It too expired in 2004, which allowed the man who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others to shoot 30 bullets from his weapon without re-loading. Efforts to reinstate the ban on large capacity magazines after the mass shooting in Arizona quickly ran aground. Score another one for the gun lobby.
Until national political leaders stand up on gun policy, like so many other things, our country will continue to stratify - in some states, people walk into public places with concealed firearms, can "stand your ground" and fire weapons at people who they think are trying to do them harm and easily purchase copious amounts of ammunition and large capacity magazines without approbation. In others, strict limits result in straw purchasers trafficking weapons from states with looser regulation, flooding inner cities with guns that are used in the commission of crimes. And so the beat goes on, the media stand at the ready with their pre-packaged and ready to open saturation coverage of the next tragedy, full of pathos and string arrangements, politicians' lapels are prepared for the attachment of the inevitable ribbons, communities will lay flowers at the site of the shooting and we, as a nation, will do nothing about it.