Even mass shootings become routine after a while for many Americans not yet directly affected.
Another city goes into lockdown. Millions of smartphones flash with news of the latest horror. Video shows police storming into another building and snaking lines of survivors being rushed to safety. Soon, muted TVs playing cable news in tire shops, bars and airports nationwide show speeding ambulances and white-coated hospital spokespeople briefing on trauma injuries. It may be a day before the family snapshots of the victims emerge.
Mass shootings end lives in a senseless instant. Survivors may take months to recover, if they ever do. And the agony of those close to the victims will never end. But for most of the rest of the country, life goes on, because there’s no other way.
On Wednesday, it was the turn of Atlanta, Georgia, where a gunman became enraged during a visit to a midtown medical facility, allegedly shooting dead at least one person with a handgun and injuring four others before he was caught hours later after a manhunt.
Georgia state Sen. Josh McLaurin was in midtown for lunch, when he suddenly found himself faced with a frightening emergency that more and more Americans are experiencing.
“In the middle of lunch, I just started hearing people say, ‘Hey, we are on lockdown, there is an active shooter next door,”’ McLaurin, a Democrat, told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“The thing I was overwhelmed by today is this is how people are expected to live now. You could just go out to lunch or go to the doctor’s office, or go to daycare which is nearby and drop your kid off and you have got a lockdown that lasts most of the day and (are) covered by this fear and uncertainty about what is happening to your loved ones,” McLaurin said.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens warned Thursday that this new reality must not be allowed to prevail.
“We cannot accept mass shootings as normal in our country,” Dickens wrote in an open letter to his city. “While we respect the rights conveyed by the 2nd Amendment, we also need more actions to protect the rights of our citizens to go about their lives — to go to a doctor’s office, a supermarket, a gas station, their school — without the threat of being gunned down.”
It’s hard to keep all the different shootings in all the different towns straight.
Days ago, Cleveland, Texas, joined the roster of random death, after an armed man shot dead five people in a neighborhood dispute. The killing spree was triggered when a family asked the man to stop firing his gun in his yard. This came after horror unfolded in Louisville, Kentucky, and Nashville, Tennessee in recent weeks. On a single weekend last month, there were mass shootings spanning six states, killing at least 10 people. In Dadeville, Alabama, the futility of senseless violence raging out of control was underscored by carnage at a Sweet 16 party, when four people were shot dead and at least 32 others were wounded.
But the attention quickly shifted, as it always does, to the next mass shooting, leaving the bereaved and injured to pick up their broken lives.
Routine political reaction has become cliché
Had any of these events been caused by a foreign terrorist organization, or an overseas adversary, they might have spurred a national push for action. But in America, mass shootings are part of the background noise of daily life. They are part of the national reality – almost like bad weather – that causes people to shudder and hope it doesn’t affect their neighborhoods or their families before they carry on with their lives.
There is strong support for some gun safety measures, like tightening background checks and, among Democrats, an assault-style weapons ban. But the reality of divided power in Washington means that the chances of enacting change are very low. Many Republicans see any gun control measures as tantamount to a complete repudiation of the Second Amendment. And several GOP presidential candidates, including ex-President Donald Trump, are placing gun rights at the center of their campaigns while many GOP-led state legislatures are loosening gun laws.
The apparent low prospects of any action to stem endless violence means that some political reaction after gun massacres is becoming as routine as the tragedies themselves. Rote tweets from GOP lawmakers offering “thoughts and prayers” for gun violence victims became a cliché. Now the same can be said of post-mass shooting warnings from Democrats that “thoughts and prayers are not enough.” Debates about better mental health care and “red flag” laws that might save some lives are becoming just as wearied by repetition.
Majorities of Americans might be open to some limited changes, but most also know the polarized politics of the right to bear arms – an existential part of national identity for many Americans – means that even rudimentary reforms are unlikely.
So the new national reality prevails: Anywhere – a school, a backyard, a bar, a medical office or a bank – can suddenly become the latest backdrop for the gun violence epidemic. Nowhere is safe in a nation with more firearms than people. What all this does to the psyche of a country may become clear in the years ahead. Already, a generation of kids has grown up scarred by active shooter drills and the fear that their school might be next.
Tyrisia Woods, who was in the Atlanta medical facility where the shots were fired on Wednesday, summed up the latent fear many Americans feel when she told CNN she had not felt safe coming into work because her building lacked metal detectors.
“We have active shooters in Midtown so often, our buildings are locked down a lot,” Woods said. “I just really feel unsafe working in that area.”
In another sign of America’s mass shooting reality, surgeons spoke again on Wednesday of how they modified medical procedures and prepared detailed plans for mass casualty events – one of which swung quickly into action in Atlanta.
Dr. Robert Jansen, chief medical officer of Grady Health System, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that as soon as the first reports of a mass shooting emerged, doctors, nurses, trauma surgeons and respiratory therapists went on alert and operating rooms were opened.
“When these types of events happen, unfortunately we have to be prepared, and we were prepared,” Jansen said.
It won’t be long before the events in Atlanta on Wednesday – or those at a bank in Louisville last month – will play out somewhere else.
Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, who lost her 17-year-old son to gun violence in 2012, said on CNN’s “The Situation Room”: “I don’t know how much more blood and carnage my colleagues in Washington and also in state legislatures all around the country have to see. What more does it take?”
Judging by this week, America’s reality isn’t about to change soon.