After every massacre in the United States – and we have many, and often – we perform a painful ritual of death. First, there are the news reports about the killings on social networks and television, then the police news conference, followed by the testimony of witnesses and finally the politicians promising change and offering prayers for the victims and their families. That, I fear, has not helped at all. And now we wait for the next massacre. And the next.
In less than one week, there have been two massacres in the United States. One in Atlanta, where eight people were murdered, most of them of Asian descent. And the other in a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado, where 10 people died. The essential question is whether all these deaths could have been avoided. And the somber answer is that nothing of any significance has been done in recent years to prevent these types of mass murders.
Getting guns is too easy in this country. Easier than buying medicines without prescriptions or getting a coronavirus vaccine without meeting the requirements. In the United States, a nation of 332 million people, there are 390 million guns, according to a BBC investigation. No other country in the world has, proportionately, so many rifles and handguns in the hands of civilians.
There are problems, conflicts and people with mental health everywhere. But the abundance of guns, the ease of getting them and the laws that irrationally protect their owners make the United States an extremely dangerous social experiment. That's how going to a supermarket in Boulder or working at a spa in Atlanta can turn into a death sentence.
When I report on mass deaths or killings in other countries, there's usually a basic reason: a war, a clash between cartels, hold ups, money, kidnappings, control of territory or power. But the great tragedy of these massacres in the United States is that they are irrational. They take place with no apparent motive. The killer wanted to kill, he was armed and the innocent victims were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To the question of why we have so many massacres in the United States, the absurd answer is: because we can, because there are many guns that kill and because nothing bars a mentally unstable person from using a weapon of war to silence his inner demons.
The United States has suffered at least 121 massacres in the past four decades, according to an investigation by the magazine Mother Jones. That's massacres with four or more fatalities. Its conclusion was discouraging. “Most of the killers got their arms legally.”
I have been wrong on this issue many times.
When two students murdered 12 other students and a teacher at a school in Columbine, Colorado, in 1999, I believed something would be done to restrict access to firearms. And nothing happened. After the deaths of 20 students and six teachers at a primary school in Sandy Hook, Connecticut in 2012, I believed, wrongly, that we had hit our limit. And when 17 people were killed in 2018 in a school in Parkland, Florida, near my house, I suspected that it would be the last massacre of its kind. All those times, I was wrong.
After each of those massacres, many politicians said they prayed and sent condolences to relatives of the victims. We are grateful, of course. But that's not been enough. Even they know it. “Thoughts & prayers cannot save the 8 victims in Atlanta or the 10 last night, including a brave police officer,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal tweeted. “Congress must honor these victims with action—real action—like passing universal background checks” for gun buyers.
The message is clear: No more prayers, please. Action is what we need.
I am not religious, but I believe I understand the power of prayer. It focuses thoughts and actions on good intentions. And that is always positive. The problem, in the case of violence caused by guns, is to stop at just prayer and do nothing more. “Prayer leaders have their important place in this,” said Sen. Dick Durbin. “But we are Senate leaders. What are we doing?”
The answer is nothing.
In the terrible ritual of death that we have all learned in the United States, we are now at the moment of indignation, after the killings and the public promises to change the laws. But after the funerals, the political reality will again paralyze Congress.
Not enough Congress members dare limit the use of firearms, not even the use of weapons of war by civilians. They are afraid of losing elections because of conservative voters who refuse to change the Second Amendment, which protects gun ownership.
This country will not change.
Another crisis will grab our attention, all the prayers and promises will be forgotten and then will come another massacre. As a father, I will again drop everything I am doing and ask, “Where was it this time?”