It Happens All The Time In America

Ah, the quadrennial rites of late summer! Presidential candidates emplane for Europe, the Mideast or anywhere else they can burnish their foreign policy credentials and attract some media attention. Political action committees, super-duper political action committees, and presidential, senatorial, congressional, even mayoral campaign committees seize our airways with their money and their mostly forgettable advertisements.

Olympians descend on another not-quite-ready city, and across North America and into the Pacific, sports fans find their attention shifting ever so slightly from baseball’s pennant races to their local state university campus and the prospects of its football team.

Then, in the United States at least, there’s the late summer bloodbath. Well … it’s not really a quadrennial rite, is it? Nor is it confined to any season. In our great country, one can happen any time.

All it takes is an unhinged mind, loosened by anger, depression, paranoia – whatever. It doesn’t matter. He, and it’s always a he, only needs to buy a gun, or three or four or as many as he likes, add a big, long magazine like the one you see in the action movies and voila! He has the makings of a bloodbath.

The Aurora killer had it all: two handguns, a shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle, body armor and a big, long magazine that made his rifle capable of spraying 50-60 bullets a minute. He even arrived at a movie theater in character, sporting the orange hair of a Batman villain.

He killed 12 of the moviegoers, wounded 58 more, a half-dozen of whom remain in critical condition. It was a bloodbath to quench the most inexplicable of psychological needs.

It was easy: a multiplex theater full of hand-holding couples, students, children, all totally preoccupied watching the block-buster movie of summer, a literal shooting gallery for a deranged, heavily armed villain. It was as easy as shooting up fellow students in their classrooms at Virginia Tech or Columbine, or constituents at a congresswoman’s meeting in front of a grocery store in Tucson, or co-workers in their coffee room as they awaited the start of the workday in Honolulu.

In the immediate aftermath of the killings, the president urged Americans to hug their children tighter and then flew off to Colorado to comfort the grieving. The presidential challenger spoke movingly of the need for prayer, understanding and God’s love.

Otherwise there was silence, or more of the ritual comforting words that followed Virginia Tech, Tucson or any number of other American bloodbaths.

But not everyone sought only to comfort. On the floor of the United States Senate, New Jersey Democrat Frank Lautenberg asked his colleagues, “What do we do besides weep with these people? What do we want to do to prevent it in the future? That’s going to be the test. Our duty in this body is not just to mourn and offer our condolences. The best way to prove our sadness, the best way to prove we really care is to take action to protect young, innocent lives, and on that score we don’t rank very high.”

In the aftermath of Tucson, where six were killed and 13 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Lautenberg introduced a bill that would limit the amount of ammunition that could be fired by capping high-capacity magazines at 10 bullets. It, and a similar measure introduced in the House, went nowhere.

Aurora won’t move them. In America’s tribal politics, the National Rifle Association, whose members battle the most modest proposals to regulate guns, owns the Republican tribe and has silenced the Democratic.

Worse, Americans no longer seem to care. Columbines, Virginia Techs, Tucsons and Auroras have become a part of our cultural landscape. What happened in Aurora is a national tragedy, one in which we are all, in our silence, complicitous.