There was a time when the news that 10 people had been gunned down at their school would have been a terrific shock. You’d have talked about it with everyone at work, with your family at dinner. All through the weekend.
But now it’s beginning to feel way too normal.
On Friday it was in Santa Fe, Texas. Just three months after we lost 14 kids in Florida. “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too,” one of the Santa Fe students told a reporter.
Because we have been through this so often, we know what to expect next: the portraits of the dead young people and their families. Shocked acquaintances of the shooting suspect. And then a dissection into what went wrong, during which allies of the National Rifle Association will quickly point their fingers at something other than … guns. On Friday one Texas Republican kept talking about the overcoat the shooter used to hide his weapon. (Maybe there should be a ban on heavy clothing.)
The Santa Fe high school seemed to have been well patrolled, so it was tough arguing that the problem was a lack of security. However, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick creatively suggested the school had “too many entrances and too many exits.”
This is the same Dan Patrick who responded to the shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando with a tweet quoting the Bible: “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Feel free to think of this as the Blame the Almighty theory of mass shootings.
Donald Trump responded to the news out of Santa Fe by vowing to “keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others.” This could mean anything over the long run. At a recent NRA convention he seemed to suggest the real peril was … knives. “I recently read a story that in London, which has unbelievably tough gun laws, a once very prestigious hospital right in the middle is like a war zone for horrible stabbing wounds,” he declared. “They say it’s as bad as a military war zone hospital. Knives, knives, knives.”
Trump’s knife riff drove Mark Kelly nuts. He and his wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, have been fighting gun violence since she was shot in the head by a disturbed man at an Arizona shopping center in 2011. On the day the Sandy Hook shooter was killing 6- and 7-year-olds in Connecticut, Kelly remembered, he was in China, where Beijing was also dealing with a school violence crisis.
“A guy walked into a school and stabbed more than 20 kids,” Kelly recalled. “Horrible. But do you know how many kids died? Zero.”
There are a lot of gun reformers like Kelly who got their start from a personal tragedy. On the day we heard about Sandy Hook, I called Carolyn McCarthy, who got elected to the House of Representatives after her husband and son were shot by a gunman on the Long Island Rail Road.
“I don’t know who we are anymore,” she said over the phone, her voice breaking. That was in 2012. By then McCarthy had been in office for 15 years, still vowing to retire as soon as Congress made some serious progress on gun violence. Never happened. She left anyway in 2015.
But the beat goes on. Kelly says he doesn’t get depressed, and he tries to dwell on “the people who didn’t get shot and killed” thanks to reform legislation passed in the states.
So let’s give a salute to the people who keep chugging along, no matter how many times they have to answer the phone and comment about a terrible shooting very much like the one they commented on a few months before.
“I don’t have anything original left to say,” said Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who’s been a gun-reform warrior since 2012, when his old congressional district was the scene of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Earlier this year, when the nation was reeling from the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Murphy was invited to a bipartisan meeting with other members of Congress and Donald Trump. That was the gathering where the president vowed to crack down on guns and made fun of Republican senators for being “afraid of the NRA.”
Before they all sat down, Murphy recalled, the president “pulled me close and told me he was going to stop this. As usual he wasn’t telling the truth.”
Fast forward to that NRA convention this month, where Trump told the cheering crowd their right to bear arms “will never, ever be under siege as long as I’m your president.”
Does sound … inconsistent. But maybe he was trying out a script for a movie in which the hero is a chief executive who wakes up every morning and does the exact opposite of what happened the day before.
Our mission, however, is pretty clear. The problem is guns, not knives or too many school doors. And when children lose their lives to a mass shooting, we have to keep talking about it.