The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Only in America: Enduring one mass shooting while bracing for the next

In a country with more guns than people, the beat goes on

Flags fly at half-mast in Jersey City, across the bay from the Statue of Liberty. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
Placeholder while article actions load

America: twisting in rage and grief, stricken by hopelessness and doom.

America: sending its children to school, wondering if they’ll get shot, knowing that nothing will change if they do.

America with a gun to its own head.

“I’m done,” said Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed in the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., on MSNBC on Tuesday, hours after a teenage gunman killed 19 children and two teachers in Uvalde, Tex. “They f---ing failed our kids again. Okay? I’m done. I’ve had it. How many more times?”

Probably many more. Collective shock and grief have long been replaced by a zombie mind-set of depraved acceptance. Nothing will change, barring a profound shake-up of Congress, so best to adapt. Best to memorize what your children are wearing every morning, in case they are shot beyond easy identification during science class. Best to practice the “quiet game,” and wonder if your kindergartner realizes that, if ever it’s not a game, the prize for winning is surviving.

“I am sick and tired of it,” said President Biden, who noted that — in the nearly 10 years since the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults in Newtown, Conn. — “there have been over 900 incidents of gunfire reported on school grounds.”

Consider how not shocked you are by any of this. The broader damage is how it feels expected, even inevitable. It is the gradual, bloodless massacre of all of us.

The grief and pageantry following a horrific mass shooting is sadly familiar in America (from 2012)

A 2018 Quinnipiac University poll taken shortly after the Parkland shooting found 45 percent of registered voters nationwide saying they personally worried about being a victim of a mass shooting. Another poll, conducted around the same time by the Pew Research Center, found that 57 percent of teenagers were worried about the possibility of a shooting happening at their school. In both polls, worry was higher among Black and Hispanic respondents.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) went to Robb Elementary in Uvalde and said what we needed to do was “harden schools” — starting, perhaps, by restricting their doors. “One door that goes in and out of the school,” Cruz said.

“Is this the moment to reform gun laws?” a British reporter from Sky News asked Cruz the next day, and the senator’s face fell in somber exasperation. This wasn’t a moment for politics, Cruz said.

“But why does this only happen in your country?” the reporter, Mark Stone, asked Cruz. “I really think that’s what many people around the world, just — they cannot fathom. Why only in America?”

Cruz called the reporter “a propagandist” and ended the interview.

“I’m in Ukraine, a warzone,” tweeted Politico reporter Christopher Miller in the hours after the shooting. “Russian attacks are constant, airstrikes hit Ukrainian cities overnight. But the first two Ukrainians I saw when I woke up today asked me about the Texas elementary school shooting where a gunman killed 19 children.”

“Why?” the Ukrainians asked him. “How?”

The lieutenant governor of Texas had an answer, and a solution. “We are in a sick society,” Dan Patrick said on Fox News, and we can only be healed by “turning to God.”

Last week, the company that manufactured the gun used by the Uvalde shooter tweeted a photo of a toddler with a semiautomatic rifle on its little lap. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it,” said the tweet, quoting the Book of Proverbs. After the shooting, the company released a statement saying it would keep the families of the victims in its thoughts and prayers.

Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, looked at the bright side of the situation. “The reality is, as horrible as what happened, it could have been worse,” he said at a news conference.

“You said this was not predictable,” Texas gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke (D) scolded Abbott as he interrupted the news conference. “This is totally predictable when you choose not to do anything.”

“I can’t believe you’re a sick son of a b---- who would come to a deal like this to make a political issue,” Uvalde’s mayor retorted from the stage.

The nation had gone 10 days without a major mass shooting.

“America,” tweeted comedian Daniel Van Kirk, “where you only ever need half a flagpole.”

The memorials and funerals for the victims of the May 14 shooting in Buffalo were happening as families in Uvalde waited to get their cheeks swabbed so the obliterated bodies of their children could be identified.

Some members of the media began debating this week whether showing pictures of these dead children could shake America out of its stupor. Might we be jolted to action if we show dead and bloodied children on the floors of their schools?

“It’s time, with the permission of a surviving parent, to show what a slaughtered 7-year-old looks like,” tweeted David Boardman, who runs Temple University’s journalism school.

We saw what their parents looked like.

A jittery cellphone video, taken at the time of the shooting, showed the parents of Uvalde pleading with the police officers in the parking lot outside of the elementary school to save the children who were inside being murdered.

Fifty-nine seconds into the video, a woman can be heard screaming, “My daughter!” Her voice is ripped raw. Eighty-seven seconds in, a policeman tells the group of parents that they are “taking care of” the situation. A man responds that the shooter “ain’t dead yet.” A woman tells the officers that her son is inside the school. “If they’ve got a shot, shoot him or something, f---!” she says. “I’m going to go, I’m going to f---ing go.” Two minutes into the video, there is inchoate wailing. Parents have fallen to their knees on the pavement. Parents have crumbled in the parking lot, shrieking.

This week, students from Fairfax County to Shaker Heights, Ohio, to Essex Junction, Vt., staged walkouts of their school to protest political inaction on guns.

This week, Golden State Warriors Coach Steve Kerr pounded the table at a pregame news conference, excoriated Republican senators for refusing to take up a background-check bill passed last year by the House of Representatives, and bellowed “We can’t get numb to this!” and “It’s pathetic!” and “I’ve had enough!”

Meanwhile, stock prices for American’s largest guns and ammo manufacturers climbed this week: 8.4 percent for Smith & Wesson Brands; 12 percent for Ammo Inc.

CNN anchor Anderson Cooper went to Uvalde and interviewed a medical professional named Angel Garza, who described arriving at the scene of the shooting and meeting a little girl covered “head to toe” in blood. He asked her if she was hurt and she said no, but her best friend had been shot and killed while she was trying to call the police. Garza asked the girl her friend’s name. It was Amerie. It was Garza’s 10-year-old daughter.

“That’s how you learned,” Cooper said. Eleven seconds of silence followed, punctuated only by Garza’s sob.

Garza told Cooper that the phone Amerie had used to try to call the police was a gift she had received for her birthday two weeks before. He said she had always been afraid of strangers, and a shooting would have been the thing she feared the most. He said she was a good girl. He said she always listened to her mom and dad. He said she always brushed her teeth.

America: where last year 52 percent of adults supported stricter gun control, according to Gallup, leaving nearly half who want either less strict laws or the status quo.

America: where residents own more guns per 100 residents than any other country in the world: 120.5, which is more than twice as many as the next highest country, which is Yemen.

America: where there are more guns than humans.

The same day as the Uvalde shooting, a 14-year-old in Boulder, Colo., was arrested for threatening to shoot up a middle school.

The same day as the Uvalde shooting, a second-grader in Sacramento brought a gun and a magazine of bullets to school. The weaponry was found and confiscated “due in large part to the bravery and awareness of the students who came forward and alerted staff,” the Sacramento school district wrote to parents, urging everyone to “work together and use this incident as a reminder of the importance of ‘See something, say something.’ ”

On Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after the shooting in Uvalde, a business owner in a suburb of Dallas saw a teenager walking past the Petco and the Target, holding what looked like a rifle, heading in the direction of Berkner High School. Police were dispatched. Nearby schools were alerted. In the teenager’s car, officers found what appeared to be an AK-47-style pistol and a replica AR-15 style rifle. The teenager was arrested and charged with unlawfully carrying weapons in a school zone.

On Thursday a high school in Prince George’s County went into lockdown for almost two hours after police were alerted to a student with a gun on campus.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks summed up this endless moment in America: “These are horrifying times we are living in.”

Loading...