Opinion

Renée Graham

When mass shootings become mundane

Credit: Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe
Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe

In a Florida bank, five women were murdered, execution-style. Near Penn State University, four people were shot by the same assailant in a restaurant and private home; three of them died. In two separate shootings, a man in Georgia killed four people. On Sunday, a manhunt ended in Virginia after police arrested a man believed to have killed his parents, his girlfriend, her father, and her younger brother in Louisiana.

All of this happened last week, an especially bloody one in America, with at least four mass shootings. Yet some of these shootings received scant attention, if any, outside the communities where they occurred. In a country that averages a mass shooting a day, such startling crimes have become mundane, our nation’s outrage seemingly stultified by deadly repetition.

Which is exactly what Republicans and the NRA want.

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If we’re talking about a stupid wall that a majority of Americans don’t want, we aren’t talking about the nearly 40,000 people killed by guns — murder, suicide, and accidents — last year. If we’re arguing about a fake crisis at the border, we’re ignoring that guns are the second-leading cause of death for this nation’s children, with a fatality rate 36 times higher than other developed nations.

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When we’re parsing another fact-free presidential tweet about immigration or widespread voter fraud (which, by the way, does not exist), we aren’t talking about the 53 police officers shot to death in the line of duty last year, or the seven officers killed so far this year. On Sunday, two Denver officers were shot; a day later, four officers were shot in Houston, two of them critically injured.

Now if any of the suspects turn out to be undocumented immigrants, President Trump will tweet until his thumbs are raw. For Trump, crime is the province of duct-tape carrying brown people trying to enter this country; murders that can’t be exploited for political and racist means go unmentioned.

That’s why Trump has said nothing. And the party he leads wants our numbed silence to match its indifference to a gun violence epidemic.

Feb. 14 will mark the one-year anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and what felt like a new era of gun control activism. After 17 people were murdered at their school, a group of surviving students founded March for Our Lives, culminating in a multi-city demonstration that, by some estimates, attracted more than 2 million participants nationwide.

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Compared with the depth of the problem, their demands were common sense — universal background checks; closing gun show loopholes; banning bump stocks and high-capacity magazine sales; increasing the gun ownership age to 21; and reviving the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons ban. After the appalling inaction following the deaths of 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012, it finally seemed last year as if this nation had finally witnessed enough bloodshed to act. Legislation might replace hollow thoughts and prayers.

“I can speak for all of the senators, congressmen, and congresswomen, all of the people in this room that are involved in this decision, that we will act and do something,” Trump said a week after the Parkland massacre. “We will act.”

If acting meant doing nothing, then Trump kept his promise. In fact, a report issued last year by Trump’s school safety commission ignored all of the post-Parkland suggestions, instead opting for the same old idiotic refrain of arming school teachers. The 177-page report could have been summed up with a single sentence: “We care more about NRA dollars than human lives.”

With Democrats again leading the House, legislators are expected to make gun reform a priority. It can’t happen soon enough: Fifty-nine percent of voters in congressional elections want more rigorous gun control laws, and there’s already a House push for expanded background checks, although it’s unlikely the GOP-controlled Senate will do anything. Still, it’s no longer an issue that causes Democrats to duck and cover, even those with presidential aspirations.

At her recent CNN town hall, Senator Kamala Harris said, “You can be in favor of the Second Amendment and also understand there is no reason in a civil society that we have assault weapons around communities that can kill babies and police officers.” Expect other Democrats to tout similar ideas.

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To become inured to violence is tantamount to sanctioning it. There’s nothing mundane about mass shootings — or the many other shootings that constitute the majority of gun deaths in this nation. Republicans want us to treat these acts as an acceptable part of American life, not the life-altering atrocities that they are. In the face of constant violence, the guns won’t go silent if we, like the president and GOP, remain silent.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.