Even when it’s the new “deadliest”—something that itself has happened twice in the past two years—mass shootings in the United States have come to feel tragically and farcically routine. The shock, the sadness, the “thoughts and prayers,” the blame, the calls for unity, the anguished relatives, the anger.
The details change, but the debate and the results never really do, leaving many Americans with a sense of perpetual déjà vu. With that in mind, here are excerpts from some of the most powerful pieces published after previous mass shootings. They are all still so relevant today.
“The Second Amendment Hoax”
By Dahlia Lithwick in Slate
Written after Orlando
Sunday night, when my son asked me why we shoot each other dead almost every day in America, I got to tell him that it’s because we are “free.” We are free to get a .223 caliber AR-15–style semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm handgun. And we are free to sell those weapons to someone who might shoot and kill 49 people in a nightclub because of whom they choose to love. We are free to arm ourselves against any potentially tyrannical federal government and also free to watch our children bleed to death in our schools, and churches, and clubs.
And we are free to do it all again tomorrow and the day after that. We are free to feel paralyzed and trapped in a system that is literally killing us.
“Mass Shootings Are Preventable”
By David Frum in the Atlantic
Written after Charleston
Mass shooters, although almost always male, in many other ways grimly echo the diversity of American life. Dylann Roof in Charleston is white. Elliott Rodgers at UC-Santa Barbara was of mixed English-Chinese origins. Major Nidal Malik Hasan of Fort Hood is of Palestinian descent. Aaron Alexis, who killed at the Washington Navy Yard, was black. Their belief systems are distinctive too, sometimes right, sometimes left, sometimes religious, sometimes secular. Some are deeply mentally ill, but many more are not. And so on backward through the list of these distinctively American slaughters.
Despite their differences, however, these mass killers shared one quality with each other and with every other American besides: easy access to deadly weapons.
“The Simple Truth About Gun Control”
By Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker
Written after Sandy Hook
We live, let’s imagine, in a city where children are dying of a ravaging infection. The good news is that its cause is well understood and its cure, an antibiotic, easily at hand. The bad news is that our city council has been taken over by a faith-healing cult that will go to any lengths to keep the antibiotic from the kids. Some citizens would doubtless point out meekly that faith healing has an ancient history in our city, and we must regard the faith healers with respect—to do otherwise would show a lack of respect for their freedom to faith-heal. (The faith healers’ proposition is that if there were a faith healer praying in every kindergarten the kids wouldn’t get infections in the first place.) A few Tartuffes would see the children writhe and heave in pain and then wring their hands in self-congratulatory piety and wonder why a good God would send such a terrible affliction on the innocent—surely he must have a plan! Most of us—every sane person in the city, actually—would tell the faith healers to go to hell, put off worrying about the Problem of Evil till Friday or Saturday or Sunday, and do everything we could to get as much penicillin to the kids as quickly we could.
“In 1996, Australia Enacted Strict Gun Laws. It Hasn’t Had a Mass Shooting Since.”
By Will Oremus in Slate
Written after Sandy Hook
What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post’s Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here’s the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn’t been a single one in Australia since.
“A Battle in San Bernardino”
By Susan Straight in the New York Times
Written after San Bernardino
Soldiers seem to have risen among us, hidden like stalks in the cornfield that suddenly become something else. These fighters have so many different allegiances it’s almost as if they receive signals from another universe; they choose an elementary school, high school, community college and university, movie theater and banquet hall, sorority house and graduation party. They choose places they know and places they don’t.
Perhaps the universal is that they choose themselves. Ego and rage. The desire to bang and not whimper. Many have assault rifles for larger operations, but anyone who has received a phone call about a loved one who has been shot knows that a handgun that kills one person means the end of the world as well.
“The One Clear Lesson of San Bernardino: Block Access to the Deadliest Weaponry”
By David Ignatius in the Washington Post
Written after San Bernardino
The horrifying events in San Bernardino, Calif., should be a unifying moment in the gun debate, rather than a polarizing one. Left or right, blue state or red, Americans ought to agree that Farook and Malik shouldn’t have been able to obtain the types of weapons that killed so many people on Wednesday. Regulations that might reduce the likelihood of another San Bernardino could also contain the violence that killed three people last week at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, and 10 at a community college in Oregon in October, and nine at a church in South Carolina in June, and the still gut-wrenching Connecticut school massacre that killed 28 three years ago.
“The Lesson Nobody Learns”
By the Economist
Written after Columbine
As with previous incidents, television's psycho-babblers have rushed to condemn the American child's diet of horror movies and war-like video games. Educationalists have spoken of the need to make schools safer, with metal detectors, security guards and conveniently placed cell phones (one Columbine student, cowering under a desk, failed to get through to the police but managed to use his cell phone to talk to a television station). But the same educationalists emphasise that schools should not be prisons. Psychologists and politicians alike meanwhile talk of the need for counselling. As Mr Clinton said: “We do have, from bitter and sad experience, a great cadre of grief counsellors.” More to the point, they emphasise the need for counselling before rather than after the event: the need, as Mr Clinton said on Wednesday, to spot the “early warning” signs of troubled teenagers.
All that is common wisdom. What is not is the need to banish America's guns from everyday use. To non-Americans, oblivious to the constitutional guarantee of the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the connection between guns and tragedy seems obvious. After all, all countries have troubled and violent teenagers; but America is unique in having some 66m gun-owners, in possession of some 200m guns, including perhaps 70m handguns.
A Brief, Inglorious History of “Not Politicizing Tragedy”
By Katy Waldman in Slate
Written after Orlando
Crying “politicization” is itself politicization—a way to advance whatever slate of politics favors the status quo. Often people invoke policy goals in order to get things done; what’s at stake is whether these tragedies should be regarded as irreducible lightning strikes or problems with potential solutions. I’m sympathetic to those who say that death is irreversible and specific, not “about” anything but itself. And yet we know that lessons and change can come out of horror—it seems irresponsible to blind ourselves to the past’s instruction. As these lethal incidents recur, echoing each other down the years, Americans should put their pieties on hold and honor human pain through actions, not just words. We should accept that reducing the body count might just fall within our power.
“Our Thoughts and Prayers Are Not Enough”
President Obama’s speech after the shooting in Roseburg, Oregon
But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It’s not enough. It does not capture the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America—next week, or a couple of months from now.
We don't yet know why this individual did what he did. And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be. But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.
Earlier this year, I answered a question in an interview by saying, “The United States of America is the one advanced nation on Earth in which we do not have sufficient common-sense gun-safety laws—even in the face of repeated mass killings.” And later that day, there was a mass shooting at a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day! Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it. We've become numb to this.
We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston. It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.
“ ‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens”
By the Onion
Written after Isla Vista
… [C]itizens living in the only country where this kind of mass killing routinely occurs reportedly concluded Tuesday that there was no way to prevent the massacre from taking place. “This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said North Carolina resident Samuel Wipper, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations.