Mass shootings happen so frequently in America that the media has the response cycle down to a science. There are live updates of the crime scene, followed by gun control tweets from Democrats and “prayers” from Republicans, and then a steadily clearer profile of the suspects (either mentally ill or terrorists, along predictable lines). Then, an interchangeable lineup of experts goes on TV to fill airtime by rehashing what we already know.
But some of the most resonant commentary on the nation’s total lack of action on gun violence comes from the satirical news site The Onion.
Its pithy article, titled “’No Way To Prevent This,’” Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens,” first published after Elliot Rodger killed six people and injured 14 at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in July 2014, has become a staple of the social media response to mass shootings.
The Onion published the story for the fifth time Wednesday, in response to the massacre at a center for people with developmental disabilities in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 dead and 21 others wounded.
In just under 200 words, the article ― which the Onion reposts almost verbatim, editing only the location and number of victims for each shooting ― pointedly satirizes the stance that gun control is not linked to gun violence.
“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Michigan resident Emily Harrington, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations.
There’s nothing about this particular article that sets it apart from the Onion’s regular fare. But as mass shootings continue to traumatize and numb the American public ― and as politicians empowered to address the issue refuse to do so ― the piece stays sadly relevant.
The article has been widely shared on social media each time it’s been posted in the wake of a mass shooting, including after recent attacks in Colorado Springs and Charleston. Sometimes people even note the fact that its being re-shared.
And each time it’s posted, the piece loses any remaining shreds of comic value, as it gets clearer how closely the spoof mirrors the very real positions of politicians who refuse to change gun legislation, despite its clear link to the massacres.
The fact that we have “evergreen” gun control articles that are resurrected seasonally on social media because the same thing happens again and again is astonishing. Articles like The Onion’s, Adam Gopnik’s thoughtful comment from 2012, and certain Vox infographics are now basically response memes.
The Onion article taps into an additional zeitgeist this week, as the media has attacked the ineffective “thoughts and prayers” offered by Republican politicians in response to the shooting. The notion that we are powerless in the face of gun violence may be slowly losing currency. Naturally, the Onion has wryly commented on this too, in the still-relevant October article “Man Can’t Believe Obama Would Use Tragedy To Push Anti-Tragedy Agenda.”