Will this time shame us?

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - ruth­mar­cus@wash­post.com

A con­fes­sion: When the news of Thurs­day’s mass shoot­ing in Ore­gon broke, it did not oc­cur to me to write about it.

I was think­ing about Planned Par­ent­hood and Beng­hazi; about Bernie San­ders’s fundrais­ing and Hil­lary Clin­ton’s e-mails; about Vladimir Putin and Syria. Another shoot­ing is tragic and en­rag­ing, but what is left to say? What is the point of say­ing any­thing when it will change no minds?

Still, noth­ing else was work­ing, so I took the dog for a walk, dur­ing which Twit­ter erupted— first, with news that the pres­i­dent would be mak­ing the in­evitable brief­ing room state­ment; next, with the in­evitable crit­i­cism that he was seiz­ing the mo­ment to change the sub­ject from the mess in the Mid­dle East. Se­ri­ously, he’s the pres­i­dent of the United States. If he didn’t speak out, he’d be slammed for his un­car­ing si­lence.

Then the pres­i­dent’s grim words shamed me into writ­ing.

“Some­how this has be­come rou­tine,” he noted, bristling with anger and frus­tra­tion as he made his 15th such re­marks. “The re­port­ing is rou­tine. My re­sponse here at this podium ends up be­ing rou­tine. The con­ver­sa­tion in the af­ter­math of it. We’ve be­come numb to this.”

Or per­haps sim­ply de­spair­ing. The sad­dest in­ter­view I ever con­ducted was with three of the moth­ers whose chil­dren were mur­dered at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School. We sat un­der the cherry blos­soms out­side the U.S. Capi­tol, four months af­ter the killings.

They cried, and I cried, as they de­scribed the an­guish of los­ing their ba­bies, and the de­ter­mined lob­by­ing, com­plete with glossy post­cards of their im­pos­si­bly beau­ti­ful mur­dered chil­dren, that had man­aged to dis­lodge the usual grid­lock and pro­pel a mea­sure to ex­pand back­ground checks for gun pur­chasers to the Se­nate floor.

Not to limit the size of am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines, or to re­in­state the as­sault weapons ban. Just to ap­ply the ex­ist­ing back­ground check re­quire­ment to gun shows, in-state gun sales over the In­ter­net and other com­mer­cial trans­ac­tions. Not trans­fers from fathers to sons, or buddy to buddy. Just com­mer­cial trans­ac­tions.

And even this was too much for the Se­nate. The tears of griev­ing moth­ers could get the mea­sure to the floor but not over the 60-vote thresh­old — and, cer­tainly, if the miss­ing six votes had mirac­u­lously ma­te­ri­al­ized, not past the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Since Sandy Hook: Washington Navy Yard, 12 killed, three wounded. Fort Hood, again, three killed, 16 wounded. Isla Vista, six killed, seven wounded. Charleston, nine killed. Now Rose­burg, another nine, and “another com­mu­nity stunned with grief,” as the pres­i­dent said.

Of course, en­act­ing rea­son­able gun mea­sures would not have stopped all of these. Still, you tell the par­ents of 9-year-old Christina-Tay­lor Green, killed in Tuc­son, that lim­its on over­sized am­mu­ni­tion mag­a­zines are not jus­ti­fied; Jared Lough­ner got off 31 shots be­fore be­ing stopped when he paused to reload.

“We are not the only coun­try on Earth that has peo­ple with men­tal ill­nesses or want to do harm to other peo­ple,” Obama said. “We are the only ad­vanced coun­try on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shoot­ings ev­ery few months.”

Aus­tralia, which adopted sweep­ing anti-gun laws in re­sponse to a 1996 mass shoot­ing, had 1.4 gun homi­cides per mil­lion peo­ple in 2012, Vox re­ported. Canada had 5.1. The United States? 29.7.

More Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism: We are the only coun­try that re­sponds to such car­nage with straight-faced pro­pos­als to make gun own­er­ship eas­ier. Look at the Repub­li­can front-run­ner, Don­ald Trump, whose oth­er­wise pal­try pol­icy po­si­tions in­clude ex­pand­ing con­cealed carry rules to make a per­mit from any state valid na­tion­wide.

As Obama ob­served, our in­ac­tion is un-Amer­i­can. “When Amer­i­cans are killed in mine dis­as­ters, we work to make mines safer. When Amer­i­cans are killed in floods and hur­ri­canes, we make com­mu­ni­ties safer. When roads are un­safe, we fix them to re­duce auto fa­tal­i­ties. We have seat­belt laws be­cause we know it saves lives,” he said.

The Sec­ond Amend­ment pro­tects a right to gun own­er­ship. It does not fore­stall rea­son­able reg­u­la­tion. The sorts of small steps that now ap­pear un­achiev­able would not in­ter­fere with the needs of re­spon­si­ble gun own­ers.

It is too soon to know how the Rose­burg killer ob­tained his weapon or weapons; how ev­i­dent was his men­tal ill­ness; whether he could have been stopped. It is not too soon for all of us, my­self in­cluded, to feel ashamed by our will­ing­ness to ac­cept the sta­tus quo as bloody but im­mutable.

CEN­GIZ YAR JR./AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE VIA GETTY IM­AGES

Flow­ers dec­o­rate a sign at the en­trance to Um­pqua Com­mu­nity Col­lege.

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