Let’s see, guns blah blah blah. Children blah blah blah. Tennessee blah de blah-blah blah.
There, am I done? Because this commenting on the latest school shooting — three 9-year-olds, three staffers and the shooter killed Monday at a religious school in Nashville — well, it gets tiresome. I suppose I could just join the great communal shrug that most people give, a sigh, a quick checking of the details, then forget about it and go about our business.
Nobody really cares — or rather, these deaths don’t shake the deep, passionate, quasi-religious, quasi-sexual devotion that too many Americans have toward high-powered weaponry. They certainly care, intensely, about guns. They cared yesterday, they care now, and they’ll care tomorrow. Far more passionately than they care about children. That is clear.
Nor do these killings stir the rest of Americans from our lethargy. We’re complicit. We watch the same movies, buy the same get-the-drop-on-the-bad-guy gun fantasies, and allow this situation to persist. For years and years.
Three kids dead — not really all that many on the Columbine Scale. But it could be 30 or 300. What difference would it make? Does it matter if kids are picked off in bunches or one at a time? In a quiet Southern school or sitting on their stoop on the West Side of Chicago? Shootings are the leading cause of death for children in the United States, a kind of American folk illness, one that many other countries don’t have because they have sane gun laws.
We have the Second Amendment. Which could still allow us to keep this from happening — it used to. Law is open to interpretation. The way the First Amendment stretches to allow any glittery-eyed parent with gumption enough to raise a fuss to start pulling books off the shelves at publicly funded libraries. Imagine if parents tried to tamp down gun ownership with half the zeal they use to go after books?
Why bother even writing about this? It’s not as if there aren’t other things to write about. A Chicago mayoral election in less than a week, and two very different candidates: former Chicago Teachers Union organizer Brandon Johnson and administrator-for-hire Paul Vallas.
Though here, too, guns aren’t far away. Fear of crime is head and shoulders the No. 1 issue among Chicago voters. I’ve had friends who never worried about crime before, who live in safe West Lincoln Park neighborhoods, but now complain about carjackings on their street. “I’m afraid to walk to my car,” said one.
A lot of fear going around. And exhaustion.
“Aren’t you guys tired of covering this?” Ashbey Beasley, a survivor of the Highland Park July 4 massacre who happened to be in Nashville and hurried to a press conference to interrupt the ritual our-community-stands-strong self-congratulation and confront the press. “Aren’t you guys tired of being here and having to cover all these mass shootings?”
Why yes, Ashbey, we are. I’ve been covering school shootings since 1988, when Laurie Dann shot up Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka. Thirty-five years. Quite a long time, really. I hated it then and hate it now. Particularly hate the special brand of idiocy that prompts people to try to protect their families by doing literally the most dangerous thing they could possibly do regarding those families: buy a gun.
But what choice is there? The massacres are still news, right? Should they be? We have 100 people die in car wrecks every day and the daily death toll doesn’t radiate across the country. Maybe we need to treat gun deaths the same way — the paper can run them as a box score. Otherwise, just as traffic fatalities are the price we willingly pay to zip around in our own private metal boxes instead of using mass transit, so children must be routinely murdered so terrified blowhards can cosplay Sgt. Rock when they go to the 7-Eleven to buy lottery tickets. Freedom is not free.
We know these shootings are coming — I wrote a one-size-fits-all gun massacre column two years ago but didn’t publish it. Holding the column for a special occasion. I thought I might drop it today. But Monday’s bloodletting didn’t seem ... quite right. Not big enough. Just three kids. Not like a roomful. Running the risk that by Wednesday it could be old news. Almost forgotten. Better to wait for something even more horrible. We know that’s coming. Yet we do nothing.