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Opinion You can do something about guns. In the voting booth.

Flowers and crosses hang from a fence near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images)

“Thoughts and prayers,” “thoughts and prayers,” America’s go-to mantra as bodies are carted away from the scenes of mass shootings.

The words were invoked after the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, and Texas’s First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and the Las Vegas outdoor Route 91 Harvest festival.

It was our formulaic response to the shootings at Virginia Tech and Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif. We heard “thoughts and prayers” after Aurora and Columbine in Colorado, and the Emanuel AME Church slaughter in Charleston, S.C. We now hear those three little words in the wake of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

What thoughts? What prayers?

Are we replaying in our minds the sheer horror that gripped the victims and their families? Thinking about the pain of loss and shattering of dreams? Could it happen here? Are those among our thoughts?

What are we praying for? The dead and grieving families? Swift passage of pain and suffering? For this madness to go away? Or simply homage to the murdered in the simplest way possible?

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“Thoughts and prayers” is a stock platitude that many resort to, as if its invocation is a suitable substitute for action. Are those words enough?

Hard feelings, fists and knives do not commit mass murders. The common denominator: a gun and someone to pull the trigger.

But, come on, we know all that. We know, too, at least we should by now, that often a mentally troubled individual is wielding the weapon. And in our heart of hearts, we know that “thoughts and prayers” won’t do.

Instead, we thank the brave first responders. Denounce and jail the shooter — if he is still alive. Hold prayer vigils. Conduct serial funerals. Bury the dead. And, as a nation, stop right there, ignoring the cancer of mass-casualty attacks invading every corner of our national body.

Oh, there will be condemnation of gun violence announced in high dudgeon. The gun-control debate, however, has been reduced to an exercise that allows both sides to empty themselves of the venom they have for each other.

Guns haven’t gone anywhere. Neither have those who would use them. Nonetheless, this is exactly where we find ourselves, year after bloody year of mass shootings.

And immediately after a slaughter, we are told by gun supporters in Congress and on cable talk shows that now is not the time to have a “conversation” about those weapons — that we need to gather all the facts — that we aren’t done mourning, blah, blah, blah.

After Las Vegas, we were told action would be taken on rifle bump stocks. Nada.

Like clockwork, President Trump announced he would visit Parkland, describing the alleged shooter as “mentally disturbed,” even as he sent to Congress a budget that, according to Paul Gionfriddo, president and chief executive of the advocacy group Mental Health America, “is more a retreat . . . than an advance” on Trump’s campaign pledge on mental health. “While there are a couple of good provisions in it,” Gionfriddo told PolitiFact, “if enacted it would likely do far more harm than good to millions of people with serious mental illnesses.”

As long as Trump has a grip on Congress and the NRA has his back, the AR-15 — the weapon used by the Parkland shooter — is safe.

The American people can loosen that grip, and can also stand down the NRA. We have an opportunity and the means by way of the voting booth. Goodness knows, we have the motive.

Read more from Colbert King’s archive.

Read more on this topic:

Debby Miller: I’m a Broward County teacher. Thoughts and prayers won’t keep my students safe.

Max Boot: The Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact

Joe Scarborough: Republicans’ indifference to the massacres of innocents will lead to their ruin

Jennifer Rubin: Gun absolutists need to stop making specious arguments

David Von Drehle: Another school shooting, another cruel reminder to parents