Why does it take a massacre?
I read several newspapers online every morning, including the Chicago Tribune. I pay special attention to the local section of the Tribune on Monday mornings. That’s where you will inevitably find out how many people were shot and killed over the weekend in the city.
The headline this Monday: “6 hurt in overnight shootings across the city.” This followed another weekend headline: “Two 16-year-olds dead, 4 wounded in South Side shootings.”
After I read the Tribune’s local news section on Mondays, I always think to myself, “damn shame.” Then, I go about my day.
Every Monday: “damn shame.” Then, I go about my day.
This seems to be our country’s collective approach to gun violence: we just go about our day. We’ve become numb to the numbers. We expect, and dare I say accept, a level of gun violence in certain cities and neighborhoods. Meanwhile, many Chicagoans have become numb to the actual violence. One Tribune reporter even wrote that the sounds of bullets flying, sirens blaring, and mothers screaming are so common that neighborhood dogs don’t even bark in reaction anymore. And, one local pastor declared, “we’re tired of doing funerals.” That, my friends, is a damn shame.
But it takes a massacre to get our attention, the national media’s attention, and our elected leaders’ attention. It takes a massacre to rattle us and to spark a national debate about guns and gun violence. But, don’t expect that debate to last long. In fact, you could argue that the debate never really got started. Just days after the Aurora tragedy, there’s already consensus that gun control and gun violence won’t be a part of the election year debate. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a long-time gun control advocate, said Sunday that an election year is “a bad time” to take on this new subject. 70 people were shot in a movie theater by a guy with handguns, a shotgun, and an assault rifle after he had bought thousands of rounds of ammo on the Internet, but right now isn’t a good time to talk guns? Please, somebody tell me a better time to talk.
We should be discussing if anything can be done about lone gunmen. We should be talking about an assault weapons ban. We should be talking about tougher gun control policy. We should be debating the root causes of gun violence in major cities. We should be talking about the 2nd Amendment. And, yes, President Obama and Gov. Romney should be leading the discussions. Regardless of our current philosophical and political differences in these areas, 12 dead in an Aurora theater makes gun violence a worthwhile topic of discussion for us all right now. Oh, wait, I forgot: this is a “bad time.”
Sen. Feinstein and others admit the gun lobby is too powerful, and politicians have made the calculation that it’s not worth the election year risk to breach the topic of gun violence. But, Sen. Feinstein said something else important Sunday: there’s been no action because there’s been no outrage. All of us bear some responsibility for that. We need collective and sustained outrage. It can’t show up only when there’s a massacre. At that point, it’s too late.
God forbid, we get to a point that we start viewing mass shootings the way I’ve come to view Monday’s local news section of the Chicago Tribune.
Headline: “10 dead at a shooting in YourTown, USA.” Then, we just go about our day.