After a mass shooting, the police often talk about the cell phones.
People drop them in the crush of bodies as they’re fleeing the restaurant or movie theatre or nightclub. Or they may be frantically dialling for help when they are shot, and they fall, still holding the phones in their hand. And when the suspect is killed, and when the wounded have been found and evacuated, the police walk silently among the blood and the bodies. But the phones keep ringing. In the pockets and hands of the dead, on the floor among the carnage, texts and calls keep coming in, as loved ones beg and pray for an answer.
Like you, I suspect, I am numb to the mass shootings. Even one on the scale of Orlando does little to move me. In this case, more than 50 people were killed, making it the worst mass murder in American history. And another 50 were wounded, at the hands of a lone gunman with a Muslim name and allegedly radical connections. Once again, he used the AR-15, increasingly the weapon of choice for these tragedies. And, once again, I find it hard to care the way I should.
I will read the news stories. I will watch the inevitable address from the President. I will listen to one pundit argue for more guns while the other argues they need to be banned. And I may even wade into the reaction columns (like this one), explaining why the solutions aren’t simple, why this was about terror, or hate, or mental health.
Dozens of people died in terror and pain. I should feel more human horror. But there have been just too many massacres. This is the 11th mass shooting this week. There have been 133 in the year to date. You can’t keep reacting, week after week. Inevitably, you stop paying attention. Eventually, these are no longer tragedies—they’re just background noise.
But then I think of the cell phones. And every time I do, I almost cry. And I get angry and upset as I see the numbers are really people and their deaths hurt so many. And then, to be nakedly honest, I move on because there is nothing I can do about it. And, nothing you or we can do about it either. Not even President Obama, possibly the most powerful political leader in the world can stop the ringing.
Every attempt at gun control has been effectively opposed by the National Rifle Association and blocked by Congress. After the Sandy Hook massacre, when 20 children no older than seven years of age were killed in their classrooms, many thought this was the shock America needed. Many argued that no civilized nation could tolerate shooting children.
But they were wrong. And what is worse is that these deaths by mass killing are only a small fraction of those who die from guns every year. So far, in 2016, more than 200 people have been killed by mass shootings. That is only a small subset of the approximately 5,600 victims of homicide by firearm. And that is only about half the number of victims who used firearms to commit suicide.
Even these horrifying numbers are not enough to motivate action on gun control.
So the bodies keep falling, the phones keep ringing, and there is no reason to believe Orlando, the worst gun massacre in American history, will change anything, with one unfortunate exception: This killing comes in the midst of the presidential race, only six weeks after Donald Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee.
Trump has risen on a wave of fear: fear of social change, of unemployment, of other races, and of terror. He has vilified Islam and immigrants. And he has screamed that government must do more to stop America from being attacked. And he has been purposely vague about what that “more” would be. He has suggested dropping more bombs, including on the families of terrorists, and he has promised a bigger military and more support to police. But Trump has avoided any specifics, which makes it difficult to effectively argue he won’t be able to help—because we just don’t know what he might do.
We can expect that, in the days ahead, Trump will do everything he can to capitalize on this. He has already congratulated himself for “being right.” He will increase the rhetoric, further vilifying Islam and immigrants. He will make more vague promises and accuse the Democrats of being soft and weak. And millions of Americans will think about Orlando, and Trump, and who they will vote for in November.
So the only thing the Orlando massacre changes is that it makes it much more likely Donald Trump will be elected President. Many predicted the gun culture would be the undoing of America, but how many of us imagined it would happen like this?