It turns out, none of the deaths mattered to much of the U.S. Senate.
Not the Batman fans sitting in a dark Colorado movie theater, not the folks waiting to chat with their congresswoman outside a Tucson Safeway, not the 15-year-old hanging out with friends in a Chicago park, not the college kids trying to master German at Virginia Tech, not even the 20 first-graders cowering in their classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
On Wednesday, keeping guns out of the hands of people like James Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner, Seung Hui Cho and Adam Lanza took a back seat to the political survival of a bunch of suits who cannot be moved by death, grief, the will of the people or even common sense.
“Shame on you!” shouted an emotional Lori Haas from the Senate gallery after 100 of the world’s most powerful men and women refused to impose any new restrictions on gun ownership. Even background checks went down to defeat.
“We were just frustrated and angry,” said Haas, whose daughter Emily was 19 when she survived two bullet wounds to the head during the Virginia Tech massacre. It happened six years ago this week.
And what did Haas get for her emotional outburst? You aren’t going to believe it.
She and Patricia Maisch — who also shouted “Shame on you” but is better known as the hero who knocked a high-capacity magazine out of Loughner’s hands before he could kill more people in Tucson — were escorted out of the Senate gallery by Capitol Police.
“They detained us for about an hour and a half,” said Haas, 55, who lives in Richmond.
They had to turn over their IDs and wait. For what?
A background check.
“Clearly, we need to detain and do background checks on two people who speak out, but not on people who want to buy guns,” Haas marveled. She’s a mother of three and a former real estate agent who will never forget that 90-mph drive to Blacksburg when she got the call that her daughter had been shot during a spree that killed 32 people and injured at least 17.
Emily, now 25, is a teacher, wife and mother who avoids talking about that blood-soaked day. So Haas takes up the cause, working for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and other groups.
The protections and security that we afford senators but deny others is absurd.
Haas reacted the same way many Americans did when they watched 46 senators turn their backs on a background check proposal that 90 percent of Americans want.
The fury was immediate and visceral in my circle of friends — especially parents, who instantly posted their Facebook versions of “Shame on you.”
“Disgusted, absolutely disgusted!” a military wife and mother declared.
A teacher and mother of two wrote: “I am infuriated that the Senate didn’t listen to the 90% of us who want background checks. Unacceptable.”
“Channeling my anger into something more productive today . . . electing new officials who don’t let their fears of things that may never come to pass prevent an attempt at prevention of even a tenth of these incidents,” another mother of two vowed.
“Yes, mothers are frustrated, and we are angry,” Haas said. “But we are not going away.”
See, we tried the empathy thing. Apparently, even the corpses of 20 first-graders — some of whom had holes in the small hands they held up to try and stop the bullets — couldn’t inspire enough senators to buck the bullying of the National Rifle Association.
Even after the parents of the Sandy Hook victims gave brave and ferocious testimony about how easy it is to kill children in America, and what it feels like when that child is yours, they were ignored.
I don’t think you can get much more innocent, tragic and poignant than Sandy Hook. Maybe the massacre of preschoolers, with some baby lambs thrown in, might plink one of those cold senators’ heartstrings.
But no, the sudden deaths of large numbers of people — along with the slow, violent grind of America’s daily death toll to gun violence — has not been enough to change things.
“I know it’s a cliché, but they do have blood on their hands,” Haas said. “Everyone I talk to, especially cops, they’re just waiting, and they fear the next one.”
It’s going to happen again.
So after her personal background check for speaking out Wednesday, Haas took back her driver’s license, left Capitol Hill and planned her next move.
Reviving the gun-control debate will now take longer and it will prove more difficult. Sandy Hook already is becoming a painful memory for much of America, rather than a searing, open wound.
And it’s going to be women, moms especially, who can do this.
“Women are a driving force in politics right now,” Haas said. As the Sandy Hook parents learned, compassion and common sense aren’t going to turn the suits around.
As every mom knows, you can count to one, two and three, but eventually, booting a cowardly, insolent and unreasonable kid from the game is the only thing that will work.
Time to give 46 senators a permanent timeout.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.