Three years ago, after that week’s American gun massacre (the one at a movie theater in Colorado), I wrote about our horrific shared understanding that these killings will go on. Similar things happen in other countries, but nowhere else do they keep happening. Australia, Norway, the U.K., Canada—societies like these do something about it. A society like the United States doesn’t. Can’t. The shootings are appalling. And our public paralysis is worse.
A few massacres back (after the one at a community college in Oregon), I wrote that I admired President Obama’s refusal to stick with the “thoughts and prayers are with the families” bromide and instead to remind his fellow citizens that the role of guns in this society is a choice:
This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.
When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer. When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer. When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities. We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives. So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.
All of these shootings are appalling. The one a few days ago at the Planned Parenthood center in Colorado was horrific. The next one will be, too, in Pennsylvania or Florida or Illinois or Texas or wherever it happens to be. And the ones after that. As an intellectual matter, they are equally unacceptable. But as an emotional and empathetic matter, we can never tell which will strike us unusually vividly. Here is why today’s news from San Bernardino particularly grabs at me (as, surreally, I sit on a United airplane on a very long flight, following the news via airborne wifi.)