America’s return to normal includes mass shootings

Illustrated | AP Images, iStock

“Did you hear about the San Jose shooting?”

A few years ago, a question like that might have been absurd. There was a time when it was automatically assumed that yes, of course people had heard that on Wednesday, a gunman deliberately sought out and murdered nine of his colleagues at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard before taking his own life. How could you not have seen the headlines, the television reports, and the push notifcations all day long?

Instead, Wednesday’s mass shooting passed with little more than a shrug from most of America, occupying a single spot on the CNN homepage Thursday morning, where it “trended” alongside a review of the Friends reunion special. There was not even a mention of the attack above the fold on The New York Times’ homepage less than 24 hours after the bloodbath.

It’s no revelation that America has resigned itself to gun violence; as one tweet that has been passed around for years put it, “Sandy Hook marked the end of the U.S. gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” Still, we’ve managed to be shaken awake from our numbness before — when a gunman killed 14 in San Bernardino in 2015; when another massacred 49 in an Orlando nightclub in 2016; when another killed 58 at a concert in Las Vegas in 2017; when another killed 17 at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in 2018; when another shot dead 22 in a Walmart in El Paso in 2019.

The eight spa workers murdered in a spree in Atlanta earlier this year seemed to resonate for a few days, shaking the country briefly awake again with a reminder that, oh right, this sort of thing happens here. As I wrote at the time, “The pandemic interrupted America’s seemingly endless streak of mass shootings. Will we go back to thinking this is normal?”

Yes, as soon as 72 days later, apparently.


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