After multiple mass shootings across America in a single weekend left at least 30 dead and dozens injured, we all began to talk. In this endeavor, we failed instantly.
Sen. Bernie Sanders echoed Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, offering some mealy-mouthed bullshit about “mental health,” a definitively pro-gun piece of rhetoric. The more openly racist figureheads of the online right braced for the probable revelation that at least one of the shooters was a fan. As a fun little throwback to the 1990s, Republicans blamed the violence on video games (an argument based on… nothing) and performatively thanked cops while avoiding mention of the motives and weaponry involved. A journalism professor at NYU complained that a news network had accurately labeled the events a “massacre,” warning that this was “cheap drama.” Astrophysicist and sex pest Neil deGrasse Tyson told us to quit being so darn emotional about people murdered by hate-driven, radicalized young men in every possible public venue.
Neither the president nor his would-be Democratic opponent in the 2020 election seemed clear about where the lives had been snuffed out: Trump mentioned the city of Toledo, Ohio, instead of Dayton, since these details are irrelevant to his White House; former vice president Joe Biden went with Houston rather than El Paso and shouted out Michigan as a kind of dealer’s choice.
None of these messages were the right one, all indifferent, defensive or heartless. Then again, what’s left to say? The rest of us are tired of stamping out misinformation as an attack unfolds, debunking the myths around firearms, zeroing in on the vile racism of one shooter and the rank misogyny of another, naming who’s accountable for those views, and demanding the single fucking policy — gun control — that would put us on the path toward peace. “Do something” is the final, reductive rallying cry of the wounded and terrorized, because we’ve run out of words to articulate what that “something” is. We know why mass shootings happen, and we know that they’ll keep happening till we break the country’s death-cult grip on the instruments of mass casualties. We also know that no one in power has any intention of helping that process along.
So with every new headline and body count, we repeat that we’re afraid, hoping some ghoul at the top will care. They don’t. The killings will continue until morale improves. Why continue the commentary? All that most of us can say is: things don’t have to be this way. We can grieve for the latest victims, secretly grateful that no friend or relative was among them — this time.
Learned helplessness is its own problem. Whenever the scale and particulars of a shooting are enough to seize national attention for a few hours, many will share this 2015 tweet from British columnist Dan Hodges. It posits the Sandy Hook massacre — 26 murdered, 20 of them kids aged six or seven — as the event horizon of U.S. gun culture, the last moment we could have freed ourselves from a cycle of slaughter. “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over,” Hodges wrote.
In the years following, this icy remark has been dredged up over and over, as if to scold anyone still dreaming of an end to such horrors, and erase the ongoing work done by grassroots organizations to enact gun reform. Its glib defeatism is attractive to the countless Americans who long ago realized their calls for action at the federal level have no effect. It is a poisoned comfort: accept your place in armageddon, so that you may grow numb.
And yet, having nothing else to say in the face of the shooting epidemic does not make the violence a fixed, unchangeable reality. Hodges was correct when he said that Sandy Hook marked a denouement in the U.S. gun control debate — it’s just that our government refuses to grant the inescapable conclusion, either in speech or the written law.
We don’t need a “conversation” about guns anymore. The data are in. The dead are tallied. The weapons were traced, and the manifestos read. We are done presenting the case for checks on the Second Amendment, as the case renews itself in blood each day. All that’s left is the revolution. That is what we communicate in the clipped slogans of the era: Do something. Enough is enough. Never again. Extra words are wasted breath.
There is nothing left to say — now the doing starts.