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It should be clear to everyone by now that no matter how many words I or anyone else – be they president, celebrity, parent of a dead child, parent of a mass shooter or random person on the street – spend talking about the insanity of this country's gun culture, nothing will change.
Two social media phenomena bear this out. One is that story about mass shootings from the Onion, "'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens." Because I don't watch TV or see much news during the work day, often the first sign I have that there's been another mass shooting is glancing at Facebook on my phone walking to my car after school and seeing that story was shared by many of my friends.
The other is a tweet from British journalist Dan Hodges, retweeted almost 40,000 times since it was posted in June of this year, reading simply, "In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over." As with that Onion story, when I see that tweet pop up in my timeline, I get a sinking feeling and dread what I will see when I scroll down.
So it was on Thursday last week, when, true to form, I learned there was a mass shooting because I saw that Onion piece. When I learned it was at a small college in Oregon, the sinking feeling turned to panic, as I know someone who works for just such a place. Finding it was not her school, I felt a wave of relief. And, some time later, a wave of guilt for having apparently given up on grieving for anyone killed in a mass shooting whom I do not personally know.
And that is the problem: Such violence is so commonplace, so routine, that it has become a "meme," and the rest of us have become numb to it. The media script is written, the call for prayers is rote, and the way everybody shakes their heads and moves on is well rehearsed.
If you need any other evidence that this country is never going to do anything about gun violence, you need look no further than the presidential primary. Not only have the major candidates of one party all said, in the words of one of them, "stuff happens" and we shouldn't impose new regulations on law-abiding citizens just because of a few crazies; the major candidates of the other party have offered no serious policy positions beyond universal background checks and, worse, they too seem to have bought into the NRA line that our mass shooting problem is a mental health problem.
I'm not saying better mental health policy in this country and universal background checks even for private sales – something even 90 percent of Republican voters favor – are a bad idea. I'm saying that giving up on anything but those measures is, as Dan Hodges' tweet or the Onion story suggests, a tacit acknowledgement that American gun culture is unchangeable and the fight against gun violence is unwinnable.
Indeed, as columnist Nick Kristoff pointed out in his column over the weekend, there are many measures politicians could and should support that would make guns safer, their illegal use less likely and shootings of all kinds, not just mass ones, more rare. Things like "smart guns," bullet microstamping and mandatory gun liability insurance, Kristoff says, could all boost anti-violence efforts. Of course, that's also a column I myself have written before, after some previous shooting.
I find it just stunning, as gun violence in cities all across the country – including and especially Milwaukee – has exploded this year, that politicians seem willing to blame any and everything except the guns used to commit the murders and shootings. Why are there so many of them? What could we do to take them off the streets? How can we prevent more of them from getting to the street in the first place?
Milwaukee mayoral candidate Bob Donovan, for example – who likes to rag on current mayor Tom Barrett and police chief Ed Flynn for the spike in murders in town – released a 10-point public safety plan last spring with not a single word about tougher gun restrictions. From reading his plan, you get the clear sense that the problem is not guns; it's that Milwaukee is not enough of a police or surveillance state.
I am probably being reductive about Donovan's stance on crime, sure, but let's be honest: When was the last time you heard any serious politician suggest that the problem with gun crimes is the gun? That the problem with mass shootings is an American gun culture that glorifies gun ownership and makes celebrities of shooters? That the Founding Fathers' sense of "arms" and "a well-regulated militia" does not extend to a 26-year-old Oregon resident with a private arsenal of more than a dozen killing machines.
This doesn't have to keep happening. We don't have to accept the deaths of children in mass shootings or accidental shootings (two die every week). We don't have to accept how easy it is for someone with a temporary feeling of hopelessness to permanently end their lives with a gun (nearly 60 people every day).
But it will keep happening. We have accepted it. The last several years of grisly, appalling, public – in some cases, televised – shootings haven't moved the needle one bit. We don't know what else to do except resort to memes and Facebook shares and useless columns on local websites.