Schoolgirls Executed in Their Classroom: America Shrugs

Another grotesque shooting, another equally grotesque exercise in national denial sure to culminate in President Bush's announced plans for a "summit" on school violence. In the wake of three high-profile school shootings in one week, the last committed by an apparently law-abiding gun owner until he pulled the trigger executing five Amish schoolgirls, America will once again go through the now-predictable exercise of trying to identify any single, possible factor for these gun deaths--except for the guns themselves. On television news, anchors refer to the school shootings as "unavoidable," as if such mass shootings are the bastard children born of hurricanes and snowstorms.

It's worth repeating. Schoolgirls are executed in their classroom. And we label it "unavoidable."

And while Bush's hollow palliatives are of no surprise--would anyone like to predict the number of gun violence prevention organizations or firearms researchers that will be invited to his so-called "summit"--the ability of the American public to be punched in the face with shooting after shooting, and offer little more in response than a national shrug, is stunning. This includes: the Democratic policymakers and activists who view these deaths as an apparently fair price to pay in the hopes of winning the votes of the pro-gun advocates who hold nothing but scorn for them; Mittey-esque blowhards on the left and right who envision themselves as modern-day Minutemen prepared to do battle with an oppressive government; rural and suburban Americans who mistakenly believe that gun violence is limited to America's big cities; gun advocates who dismiss America's firearms toll as the "price of freedom"; and, most depressing of all, the bulk of Americans who want answers but aren't being offered real solutions.

What will it take to get us to the point where we will acknowledge reality and begin to tackle the issue of guns in America in the same way that virtually every other industrialized nation has done successfully? Just when will we have a national debate about the need to ban handguns? A debate that was, in fact, robust in the 1970s. One thing is as clear as it is depressing: Only when things get a lot worse than this.