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Yvonne Abraham

Slaughter that nearly goes unnoticed

Families were reunited after the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch on Tuesday. (
Families were reunited after the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch on Tuesday. (Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images/Getty Images

Some of them barely register any more.

A mass shooting has to be really horrific to penetrate our fatigue, our numbness, our sense of its inevitability.

Deciding whether a particular attack is worthy of our overtaxed attention requires certain calculations: How many were killed? Just one, only four, six, or more? Were they adults or children? Did they look like us or no? Was it close to home, or in some distant place? What religion did the shooter profess to follow? Did they leave a manifesto? Could it have been worse?

So, to Tuesday’s attack at a STEM school in Highlands Ranch, near Denver. Is this one sickening enough to be worthy of notice, or remembering?

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Two teenagers walked into their own school and shot nine students. One of them, Kendrick Castillo, was killed just three days before graduation, after he charged one of the shooters. The school is not far from Columbine High School, where two seniors murdered 12 students and one teacher almost exactly 20 years ago. The death toll that shocked the nation then has been exceeded many times since, raising our tolerance every time.

Remember Umpqua Community College, in Roseburg, Ore., with nine dead and eight injured in 2015? Or Marshall County High School in Kentucky, where two were killed and 18 wounded last year? How about the Sun Trust Bank in Florida, where five women were murdered in January?

I didn’t either, until I looked them up.

It’s possible Castillo’s heroism at Highlands Ranch breaks through the noise here, or that the school’s proximity to Columbine keeps this shooting from blending in with others. Perhaps the fact that a gunman shot six people, killing two, on the last day of classes at UNC at Charlotte exactly a week earlier will make both shootings stick with us. Or maybe we just note the body count, decide we’ve seen worse, and move on.

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They’re so common, and we are so lousy at doing anything to stop them, that we’ve come to view mass shootings almost as natural, like weather events. Schools have adjusted, putting even little children through active shooter drills, in case luck deserts them.

“I heard a gunshot,” Makai Dixon, 8, told The New York Times on Tuesday. “I’d never heard it before.” The second-grader, the story noted, had been training for Tuesday since he was in kindergarten. Enraging photographs showed baby-faced grade-schoolers walking in line, tiny hands clasped above their heads.

God forbid we should actually do something that might lessen the carnage. Even after 20 first-graders and six teachers were killed in Newtown, Conn., and left us reeling, we did nothing. Legislators voted down pathetically weak gun safety measures, even as grieving Sandy Hook parents looked on.

In the wake of Tuesday’s shootings, the Newtown Action Alliance — still fighting, though others have moved on from the horror of that December day six years ago — called for a slew of safety measures, some of which should be no-brainers: raising the minimum age for gun purchases to 21; mandating better storage; requiring security features that would prevent a gun being used by anyone other than the owner; requiring waiting periods for gun purchases; keeping them out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others.

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A majority of Americans believe in some gun safety measures. But they’re up against a powerful minority, led by the National Rifle Association, which has grown increasingly radical, casting any gun safety measure as state tyranny.

Its fantasies persist because there’s money to be made from them. Recent stories, including an April report in The New Yorker, revealed that NRA officials and their associates have made millions for themselves via “gratuitous payments, sweetheart deals, and opaque financial arrangements,” self-dealing that has put the nonprofit’s finances in jeopardy. And whatever resources NRA officials can spare go to politicians, who parrot the lobbying group’s talking points in return, recasting their heartless gun-rights absolutism as heartfelt patriotism.

Their position is only strengthened by our growing tolerance for mass shootings. The more massacres there are, it seems, the fewer we actually see.

Until we’re confronted with one awful enough to shatter even our warped idea of normal.


Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham can be reached at yvonne.abraham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.