America’s obsession with numbers and records was on display again Friday, along with some decidedly less pleasant facets of our culture.
As the shots rang out and the horrific news spread from an elementary school in a small town in Connecticut, we asked how many. How many were killed? How many wounded? How many were teachers? How many were children?
The answer: Too many.
By Friday afternoon, news outlets were putting the body count at Sandy Hook Elementary School at 20 children and six adults killed.
Checking their files, they reported this school slaying falls between Columbine High School, where 12 students and one adult were killed in 1999, and Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed in 2007, the current record.
This is the second mass shooting this week. After a disturbed young man opened fire in an Oregon mall Tuesday, killing two, a common reaction was relief that more hadn’t been killed. It could have been worse, people said, and moved on.
The Clackamas Town Center in Happy Valley, Oregon, reopened for business Friday, just as the nation’s attention was turning to the next mass murder.
If our outrage is becoming diluted, it’s easy to see why. The slaughter of innocents, once a rare horror, is becoming routine. In the two years since the attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords left six dead and 13 injured outside a Tucson supermarket, there have been 65 mass shootings in America, Stop Handgun Violence reports. That’s an average of three a month.
That’s just the mass shootings that grab the largest headlines. The same group calculates that every day 150 Americans are shot and 83 of them — including eight children — are killed.
Reading a statement through tears, President Barack Obama spoke for all of us Friday: “As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it’s an elementary school in Newtown, or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theater in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago - these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods, and these children are our children. And we’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Will we come together, inspired by this tragedy to do something to stop the bloodshed? Not if the past is any guide.
We gasp in shock. We count the bodies. We have the same tired arguments about gun control and violence in the culture. We wring our hands. We mourn the dead. Then we forget.
In the name of countless victims of massacres not yet committed, let’s hope that this time, America does more than just mourn.