Mass Shootings Aren’t Shocking, They’re Normal



Photo coutesy of Michael F. Hiatt from Shutterstock

Anthony Bernasconi, Editor

I want you to do an exercise with me. Grab a piece of paper and write down every mass shooting you can remember. 

Here are mine: Columbine, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, El Paso. That’s it.

Well, that’s almost it. Eighteen Americans were murdered during shooting sprees in Atlanta and Boulder last month. But you knew that. Those shootings are fresh, we all still remember. 

Now, check out this New York Times list of mass shootings from the last five years. Five years, not ten, not fifteen, not twenty. Five. 

When I read the article, I was appalled by how seemingly unaffected I’d become. How could I forget these traumatic events so quickly? Unsurprisingly, the discarded details flooded back with grisly intensity. 

Dayton, Ohio? That was in August 2019, just a year and a half ago. Nine dead and twenty-seven wounded in thirty seconds. 

The Gilroy Garlic Festival, the one that happened in our backyard just one week before the Dayton shooting? Twelve wounded and three dead, including a 13- and a 6-year-old. Nope, apparently I couldn’t remember that one either. 

Thousand Oaks? The guy who walked into a packed bar and shot twelve people dead with his .45 caliber pistol? November 2018, barely more than two years ago. Somehow wiped from my consciousness.

Mass shootings are so commonplace in our country that I’ve become numb to them. And I’m guessing, to at least some extent, you’ve become numb, too. 

Sadly, Atlanta and Boulder likely won’t remain in the national spotlight or the forefront of Americans’ minds for long. Although flags are still being flown at half mast, the blistering intensity of the 24-hour news cycle has already moved on.

Still, efforts by the Democratic-controlled Congress to do something should not be overlooked. The House passed two gun control bills in early March that would expand background checks for all firearm purchases and end the “gun show loophole,” reforms that enjoy wide bipartisan support.

Unfortunately, the bills, like so many before them, appear likely to wither in a gridlocked Senate, as Republican fealty to the gun lobby and blind devotion to Second Amendment “rights” continue to be the standard on Capitol Hill. In fact, doing nothing has been the congressional standard since the passing of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

I was 10 when Columbine happened. I recall standing outside during my school’s morning assembly while the names of murdered students and one teacher were read aloud. But I didn’t actually understand what had happened. It didn’t make sense. The violence and loss of life was unfathomable to my kid brain. 

Here we are more than two decades later, and it still doesn’t make sense. But it’s definitely not new. It’s just normal. 

Back then I couldn’t comprehend a mass shooting, and now I can’t keep up with them. As sick as it may sound, mass shootings have become as normal to Americans as the start of baseball season in spring and trees dropping their leaves in fall. They are a normal part of what it means to live in America. 

They should not be normal. We are not ok. 

The UK banned most handguns following the Dunblane massacre of 1996. That same year, Australia passed sweeping gun reforms after 35 died in the Port Arthur massacre. Australians now require firearm licenses to legally own guns.

In the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque shootings of 2019, legislation restricting semi automatic rifles and magazine capacity passed the New Zealand parliament 119-1. 

The new, though not-so-new normal we’ve all adjusted to during the pandemic is finally showing signs of letting up. Businesses and schools are reopening as vaccines get distributed. There seems to be, as the proverbial refrain goes, “a light at the end of the tunnel.” Unfortunately, for some, that might just be the muzzle flash of an AR-15.

Ask yourself, when will it be your turn? I always search for the exits when I enter a building and try to sit facing the door when dining in a restaurant. I’m not in the CIA; those aren’t contingency plans regular civilians should need to worry about. And yet, in the United States, it’s normal for innocent shoppers, moviegoers, schoolchildren, bar patrons and worshipers to contemplate being massacred out of the blue. 

It never had to be this way, and it still doesn’t. Legislators acting on behalf of the American people have a responsibility to do their job and offer more than thoughts and prayers. So my message is this: Don’t accept the inaction of Congress. Don’t let lawmakers tell you that nothing can be done to prevent mass shootings. They are wrong.

None of this is normal, we’re just numb.