Here’s a sad, shameful confession: No longer do I pay attention to news coverage of American mass shootings.
That sounds callous, as if I mean to minimize the grief of those who have lost loved ones. Nothing could be further from the truth.
But when it comes to angry white males mowing down multiple human beings with a semi-automatic assault weapon, I have seen this picture show enough to have it memorized.
The first time I saw it up close was April 1999, when the Big Newspaper in Phoenix flew me to Colorado to write about the Columbine tragedy. The police were still on the scene when I arrived.
I spent days talking to high school students and grieving parents about those they had lost, and gathering details about Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, sick teenage freaks who together subtracted 13 people from this world.
What resonated most deeply with me as I sat in kitchens and family rooms in Littleton, was how very much that Denver suburb felt like this Valley. Same working-class tales. Same ranch houses and minivans. Same scrubbed-face kids suddenly confronted by incomprehensible death. Same, same, same.
Now comes a bloody weekend 20 years later, the news brimming with death and grief, first from El Paso, Texas — 22 killed, 24 wounded, then Dayton, Ohio — nine murdered, 14 wounded. I didn’t watch a minute of it.
By nature, I am a problem-solver. Broken things, broken systems, cry out for repair.
So, you’ll excuse me if I don’t have the stomach to drench myself in other people’s misery any longer. Not when we as Americans appear to have lost the backbone to fix what ails us.
Face facts. We live in the most gun-crazy developed nation on the planet. By a lot.
The most oft-cited worldwide study of murders by firearm stacks up like so: Australia, 1.4 gun murders per million people. Germany, 1.9 gun murders per million. Canada, 5.1 gun murders per million. Then there’s Switzerland with 7.7 gun homicides per million Swiss.
The United States? 29.7 firearm homicides per million people.
Many Americans blame this atrocious murder rate on the prevalence of guns. The global Small Arms Survey reports that American civilians own approximately 393 million guns. That’s about 120 guns per 100 Americans.
Others cite mental health as the reason for this gun violence.
They work backwards from bodies strewn in school hallways, nightclubs and big-box stores and reason that “only a lunatic would do such a thing.”
They cite the hate-filled rantings these killers inevitably leave behind as evidence of their singular mental sickness.
Commence yet another long and loud “national conversation.” Commence more coverage of more dead, more Columbines and Sandy Hooks, more Las Vegas music festivals shot to pieces, more Pulse nightclubs, more El Pasos, more Daytons. More, more, more.
At some point in the problem-solving process, you need to stop describing the problem and take action to implement solutions. Neither gun availability nor crazy white men stand alone as the problem. Rather, they are both the problem. And both demand solutions.
Surely, in what we believe to be the best, smartest, richest, most advanced nation on earth, we can find ways to make guns more difficult to own — especially for nuts — while respecting the constitutional right to own firearms.
Surely, we can find more and better ways to “red flag” young Americans with a propensity and a thirst for violence and get them the treatment they need.
Surely, we had better, because just as surely we will wake up to more newscasts filled with more bodies on many more mornings in America.