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After a mass shooting, words invariably fall short

Kristen Sterner (left) and Carrissa Welding, both students of Umpqua Community College, embraced each other during a vigil for the victims of Thursday’s shooting. AP

Thursday evening, President Barack Obama spoke to the nation about the mass shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore. It was the 15th time he’s had to deliver such remarks following the massacre of innocent people at schools and elsewhere. “Somehow this has become routine,” a visibly distressed Obama said. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. We’ve become numb to this.”

Sadly, there also is a maddening sameness to the underlying issues and gnawing questions, as evidenced by these excerpts from Boston Globe editorials published over the years in response to mass killings.


“The young Colorado killers were part of a group called the Trench Coat Mafia, whose members voiced neo-Nazi views. They boasted about having weapons but were ridiculed by many students. Adults should have noticed and intervened long before Tuesday. But adults often look the other way, either because they have too much on their minds or because they fear appearing to be overly critical of their children or someone else’s.”

— From an April 22, 1999, editorial following the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

“As details become known from Virginia, questions will grow more specific. Probably they will center around the motive and mental condition of the shooter, and about the weapons he used. Did the gunman have a history that included any sign of mental instability? Was he treated? Did the school know of his condition and monitor his progress? Did anyone report problems or potential problems? As for the gun or guns used, where did they come from and what kind of weapon were they? Not sporting arms, it would seem, but highly efficient killing weapons that should probably be in the hands only of law enforcement or military personnel in combat. It is worth considering these questions in tandem. All too frequently, it is easier for a disturbed person, even a psychopath, to get a firearm than to get sound treatment for mental illness.”


— From an April 17, 2007, editorial following the shootings at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.

“Each incident provokes a now-predictable reaction: a round of hand-wringing — followed by nothing. The most obvious preventive measure, tighter gun control laws, has been taken off the table. Both political parties — the Republicans by inclination, the Democrats by calculation — refuse to consider stricter rules. And federal courts have been increasingly unfriendly to existing gun control laws.”

From a July 21, 2012 editorial following the shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

“Obama, in a deeply emotional address to the nation after the Connecticut killings, pledged to `take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.’ He should follow through. But the responsibility isn’t that of elected leaders alone: The politics Obama referred to are those generated by the National Rifle Association, which has fought almost every conceivable gun-control measure as a violation of personal liberties.”

From a Dec. 15, 2012, editorial following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“The failure to pass gun legislation stood as the strongest example of how money and special interests can influence the country’s political system, and how Congress is incapable of responding pragmatically to matters of urgent national concern. Confronted with Congress’s inexplicable failure to pass a background-check bill that was supported by more than 80 percent of the people, many Americans simply gave up.”


From a Dec. 31, 2013, editorial on the number of mass shootings in the United States during that year