The following editorial was written for Commonweal’s June print edition. Soon after it went to press, news broke that an eighteen-year-old man had killed nineteen schoolchildren and two adults in Uvalde, Texas, before being killed by police. It is being reported that he was armed with a handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Texas Governor Greg Abbott released a statement calling the shooting “senseless” and urging all Texans “to come together.” Texas Senator Ted Cruz tweeted that he and his wife were “fervently lifting up in prayer the children and families in the horrific shooting in Uvalde.” Both men are featured speakers at this weekend’s annual meeting of the National Rifle Association in Houston.
One measure of a sick society is how much suffering it can resign itself to. By this measure, the United States isn’t doing very well these days. Much of the country is now treating an ongoing global pandemic—one that has killed more than a million of our fellow citizens—as if it were already behind us, though thousands are still hospitalized every day. An opioid epidemic that took the lives of more than a hundred thousand Americans last year is often spoken of as if it were a natural disaster: lamentable, mysterious, out of our control. Meanwhile, as the rate of real natural disasters steadily increases, we carry on as if extreme weather events were acts of God rather than evidence of climate change, a problem we helped cause and could still correct if we chose to. Call this attitude exhaustion or call it callousness. Just don’t call it resilience: there are things one shouldn’t get over too quickly, and things one should never get used to. This—not the number of people leaving their jobs—is the Great Resignation we should be most worried about.
Perhaps the most egregious example of this disabling fatalism is our collective unwillingness to do anything serious about gun violence. The intervals between mass shootings seem to get shorter with every passing year. So does the time it takes us to mourn and move on. We know there will be another shooting all too soon, and many of us seem to have decided that there is nothing we can do about it. The names and places change, the death counts vary, but most of these stories are otherwise distressingly similar: a very young man, in the grip of some hatred or delusion, gets hold of a very dangerous weapon and kills as many people as he can.
On May 14 an eighteen-year-old white supremacist opened fire at a grocery store in a Black neighborhood of Buffalo. Ten people died, three more were injured. Eleven of the victims were Black. The next day there were two more mass shootings, one at a flea market in Houston, another at a church near Los Angeles, but these received relatively little media coverage. There is, after all, a limit to how many shootings the public can pay attention to in one weekend. The Gun Violence Archive reports that, as of May 23, there have been 210 mass shootings (shootings with at least four victims) in 2022. That’s an average of ten a week.