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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.



Excellent post. I really appreciate the honesty in your writing, how you don’t simply point the finger at others and let yourself off the hook. You’re willing to criticize yourself too. You did that in your piece on the N-word for The Root as well. That kind of honesty is so important because it makes the reader take a look in the mirror and examine his/her attitudes and behavior. You give me a wake-up call about my own apathy, hypocrisy, and lame ass excuses. Thank you.

Neil Brown

Thanks, Mr. Holmes for touching this subject. I live in Colorado Springs and Aurora is only an hour drive north.
We desperately need to talk about this issue and have a healthy debate that moves forward rather than bring a complaints about violations of civil liberties. We have drifted from understanding that this stuff violates a community and that the common good is at stake. I’d love to discuss it anytime…

A. Harmony

Thank you for this thoughtful and timely article.
I live in Toronto where, before and after the more publicized Eaton Centre shooting in June, we have been dealing with rising gun crime. Our Mayor’s response to all of these incidents, including a block party shooting last Monday in which 22 people were wounded and 2 died, has been “move on and carry on”. He has gone on the record more than once telling us to “forget” about these “isolated incidents”. It is precisely this type of attitude that perpetuates the cycle of violence.
It shouldn’t take a massacre for us to start addressing the issue of gun control, and more importantly, dissecting the roots of violence. By ignoring the problem, or allowing ourselves to become desensitized to gun violence, we all become enablers. Our silence puts us all in danger! Thank you for calling attention to the fact that the only way to change these startling headlines in the paper is to speak up and take action. There is no better time to start talking about these issues than right now!


That was well said and I totally agree with you that Americans have become immune to violence. The reason politicians don’t want to speak on it or do something now is because it won’t benefit their campaign. Gun violence is not something new, but “we” continue to sweep it under the rug, hiding behind the 2nd amendment.


We are still waiting for Superman to come and save the day. There are pockets of people on the grassroots level working to bring attention and resources to fight the ills of our communities that result in the death of our children. People must realize that ‘our destinies are inherently intertwined’. We need a leader on the ground and in the trenches. We need a voice to rally the troops.


For the same reason it took somebody crashing planes into buildings for the government to start taking away our rights and freedoms. It takes something big and scary for all of the nannies to get enough attention to step on everyone else’s face and force their ideas of what will keep “the children” safe on everybody else.

Timothy McVeigh didn’t fire a single bullet. Making guns illegal doesn’t stop crime, it just changes the form of the violence. If the right people had been watching Holmes’s gun and ammunition buying activities a red flag could have been raised. The problem is the fact that nobody was looking, not the legality of it. Cars kill far more people than guns. Do you think those should be illegal too? No, I bet you don’t. Because that would be stupid.

How many shooting deaths would be avoided if we took all of the criminals off of the police force? Nobody ever asks that even though we know officers that should be in jail for the things they’ve done on duty are given their jobs back and we know that a significant percentage of annual shooting deaths are at the hands of police.

Also, this:

Malcolm Jackson

Maybe we don’t need another conversation, but instead we need full on solution implementation. There are many successful projects out there that are working to resolve the complex issues inner city Americans face. Find these projects, learn why they’re working, replicate them on a large scale. We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for, sometimes its time to just implement the change we seek & forgo the conversation.

Nichet Smith

I often ponder how America lost it’s way. Where did the shift occur that ultimately caused so much disconnect, so much violence? Unfortunately, some people are “going about their day” because it didn’t affect them directly. I, on the other hand feel that this atrocity directly affects me because I am a part of a society that stopped caring about people. A society where people are more concerned about their own agendas, how they can benefit. A society populated with more takers than givers. I believe it can change, but we cannot sit around and wait for the government or anyone else for that matter. We get to be in action, we the people get to take a stand and use our voices for the betterment of humanity. Until the dialogue changes that empowers action towards love of humanity and possibility rather than the promotion of fear and oppression, I’m afraid the desensitization will continue along with a similar story that our media today can’t wait to broadcast.


We are all responsible and for the reasons you name, mainly because we only get our panties in a wad when its a huge massacre, not the one or two person of color per day in every city in our country. I wrote about this same topic recently and used much the same logic and reasoning as you did. We should be outraged every time someone is killed by a gun in our nation, Every.Single. Time.


Unfortunately it’s not just the US. The illegal guns both in Canada and Mexico are coming from the US. It’s like a local cancer that’s just spreading, but in the middle of it is the _huge_ gun industry that no politician will ever take on.


On the other hand, why was no one else carrying? Too many regulations? I doubt he would/could have continued to fire if he were under fire. That is the whole point of the second amendment; self preservation, not (legally) gathering a stockpile of weapons.

Taj Mohammed

Hi, Nice post , As you mentioned that you read several newspapers this visual directory of newspapers may be helpful for you. Just click on any state to read it’s newspapers see, I bet you would like it –

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