We mourn for the 12 victims of Monday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard and wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured. And we thank the police officers who ended the killing spree before the number of casualties grew even higher.
But for the individual lives lost and the particular location of the rampage, we can’t help thinking that we’ve seen this before. There was a resigned element of deja vu in President Barack Obama’s announcement on Monday that “we are confronting yet another mass shooting.” And there was something practiced in the media’s two-steps-forward-one-step-back coverage as the details of the killings grew and changed over the course of the day. Were there three suspects? Two? Finally there was only one — 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, who had been discharged by the Navy Reserves and was described as having “anger-management problems” and “mental issues.”
Boston, Fort Hood, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora and Newtown — and for our region, add to the list snipers John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, anthrax and the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon — all have conditioned us to an almost rote reaction: Is this terrorism? If not, what would cause someone to pick up an automatic weapon and fire indiscriminately?
Each horrific shooting leads to calls for a ban on assault weapons and other gun-control safeguards, only to have the effort beaten back by the National Rifle Association, until each renewed effort toward gun-control legislation dies from exhaustion.
After the shooting of schoolchildren in Newtown, Conn., last December, the high level of public outrage encouraged the White House to propose gun-control legislation. At the time, we said that “the president’s emphasis on universal background checks and a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is a good place to start.” But nothing happened.
So, what have we learned? We’ve seen this before, and we still have no meaningful legislative or other governmental response. Without further restrictions or controls, we know it is going to happen again. Which raises the question of how many outrages people will watch before they stop looking?