In this broken country, life is cheap.
Look at the beautiful faces of the fourth-graders killed in Tuesday’s massacre in Uvalde, or the kind smiles of the elders cut down in Buffalo, or the bright eyes of the teens killed in Parkland, or the baby-toothed grins of the first-graders murdered at Sandy Hook, and try to say it isn’t so.
In America, Republicans and their fellow travelers fetishize zygotes and fetuses for political gain, and leave the already-born to fend for themselves. They watched a pandemic kill a million people, striking deadly poses on masks and vaccines to run up their electoral margins. They deny legions of their fellow citizens access to the decent health care and good food that could save lives.
And this: Nineteen children and two teachers gunned down by an 18-year-old because lawmakers gave him unfettered access to war weaponry. His gun blasts did so much damage that some of his victims had to be identified via DNA swabs from their anguished parents.
We can be shocked at these massacres, but none of them are unthinkable anymore. We send our kids off to school each morning with a hug and a silent wish that the violent maladies this country refuses to address won’t find them today. Nowhere is safe, no race or age group protected. Even living in a state like ours with sensible gun safety measures offers limited assurance; there are no checkpoints between states, meaning malefactors armed to the teeth in other states can wander on in. The states with the weakest protections rule.
This dark, familiar, peculiarly American tale has so many permutations that only those shootings with the highest body counts or most defenseless victims stay with us. Confront us with enough attacks on grade-schoolers trapped in their classrooms and we’ll get used to that eventually, too.
This wouldn’t be happening if we lived in a country that gave their lives the value they deserve. If that were the case, the GOP, gun-friendly judges, and other Second Amendment absolutists wouldn’t expose us to this level of danger. And even if they would, those who disagree with them would never let them get away with it. We’d eject politicians who refuse to make the smallest gesture toward sane regulations even after first-graders are cut down by guns. We’d be disgusted enough by the hypocrisy of those who profess empty compassion, or feign concern over mental illness, to shun them from public life. We’d do what other countries have done, responding to mass shootings with actual safety measures to stanch the endless flood of weaponry.
But we don’t live in that country.
Instead, we live in a country where a party that has nothing of any substance to offer a majority of voters remains in power in part by convincing people their rights will be shredded unless they can own infinite instruments of death. Those same politicians don’t just reject safety measures, and limits on gun ownership, including basic age restrictions and perfunctory background checks, but actually encourage the citizens they refuse to protect to buy more guns, as has Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Instead, we live in a country where gun industry profits trump all, where companies that have already saturated the nation with hundreds of millions of guns market them relentlessly to people who should never be allowed within a hundred miles of a trigger.
Instead, we live in a country where the National Rifle Association, a confederation of self-enriching parasites, buys Republican politicians and some Democratic ones with millions in campaign contributions that make it impossible — even for those with consciences — to defy them. Where they can hold a convention a few days and a few hundred miles from Uvalde and be confident most of those same politicians will still genuflect before them. Where they have learned, after laying low and talking mush after Columbine and Sandy Hook, that they are indestructible.
Instead, we live in a country where too many accept the regular sacrifice of innocents to serve a sick distortion of “freedom,” based on one sentence in the Constitution written long before anyone could imagine an AR-15.
Instead, we live in a country where those who brought us to this point never have to answer for what they’ve done, feigning nonpartisanship and compassion to avoid talking about guns, pushing the blame for massacres onto mental illness and video games and godlessness. Where, with straight faces, they offer more guns as a solution to the carnage — even in the wake of shootings, like this one, where officers fired at the gunman and still could not stop him until 21 were dead.
Instead, we live in a country where too many voters buy all of this cynical posturing, where — including in Uvalde County, which voted for Donald Trump overwhelmingly in 2016 and 2020 — appeals to their fears and sense of grievance have outweighed concern for their own safety.
Instead, we live in a country where 20 first-graders in coffins in Newtown, Conn., changed nothing. Where, whether they admit it or not, half the country decided those tiny lives weren’t important enough to do anything differently.
And where 19 dead fourth-graders in Uvalde probably won’t change anything either.
The moment the last victim fell on Tuesday, the clock began ticking on the next mass shooting. We don’t know where it will happen, but we know for sure that it will.
And it will keep happening, unless more of us decide we don’t want to live in that country anymore, and vote like it.