Nine people shot dead in Dayton, 13 hours after 22 shot dead in El Paso, six days after three shot dead in Gilroy. And tears and disbelief and funeral preparations, candlelight vigils and a search for meaning, and talking heads on cable news and T-shirts and hashtags touting resilience in the face of pain: “Dayton Strong,” “El Paso Strong,” “Gilroy Strong.”
And people asking “Why?” and Republican officials trotting out explanations noteworthy mainly for their uselessness. They blame mental illness, Colin Kaepernick, Barack Obama, video games, drag queens, gay marriage, TV zombies, immigrants and recreational marijuana. Everything except the gun, everything except the fact that this is a country where the angry and disaffected can buy weapons of mass destruction more easily and with less regulation than you could buy a car.
Which suggests a cognitive bankruptcy that defies overstatement. Because while Kaepernick and Obama may be singularly American, this is hardly the only country where people play video games. It is not the only country where they watch zombies on television, suffer mental illness or use pot. It’s not even the only country where citizens keep and bear arms. But it is the only country where mass murder is routine. The only one.
And it is not just that public responses to this American carnage feel rote and ritualized. It is also — for many of us, at least — that our inner responses feel much the same. There is, isn’t there, an all-too-familiar numbness, a shopworn feeling of helplessness, of what can I do to stop it, what can I do, what can I do? And of hearing the answer whisper up from the subtext of Republican rationalization.
“Nothing. There is not a damn thing you can do.”
As if we must accept the carnage, learn to live with it as we do earthquakes, storms and other natural disasters. But there is nothing natural about this disaster. And for all the babies and mothers, uncles and best friends, brothers and wives head shot, gut shot and dead in this measureless hailstorm of bullets, the most fateful casualty may well be the sense, birthright of every American, that if you don’t like a thing, you have the power to fix it.
We seem to have misplaced that. In a nation that has changed the course of rivers, we seem to believe we cannot change the course of our own behavior.
But this is a lie.
Notwithstanding all the gerrymandering, voter suppression and other ballot-stealing dirty tricks of our era, this is still a democracy. And if 60 percent of us, as reported by Gallup, want stricter gun laws, there is no reason we cannot have them except our own failure to demand it. That means lobbying neighbors and friends. It means not chasing the bright and shiny distractions politicians dangle. It means holding them accountable, showing up on Election Day with our neighbors and friends and voting out every NRA flunky. It means deciding that enough is enough.
And realizing that if we are helpless, it is because we’ve allowed ourselves to be. In so doing, we fail those we’ve lost. We fail our country. And we fail ourselves.
Six days, 34 people. Our ordinary places, our everyday places, our Walmarts, movie theaters, classrooms and malls become killing fields, washed in blood, then enshrined with flowers, notes and teddy bears. This is the new American norm. Just wait a few days, maybe a few hours, and you’ll see it again.
Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald.