The mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31 was remarkable—but not primarily for the death toll of 12 people. Americans have unfortunately become accustomed to losses of life from gun violence even greater than that. What was notable was how muted the nation’s response was.
In the past, a gun massacre would set off a necessary—though intractable—debate over background checks and the number of bullets the gun could shoot, the Second Amendment and mental health. This time, our collective feeling seemed to be: At least it was not children. While the Democratic presidential hopefuls registered their dismay on Twitter, only one of the 14 candidates who spoke at the California Democratic Convention the day after the shooting—Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey—alluded to Virginia Beach, decrying the “normalizing of mass murder in our country.”
Something is also broken in our politics when, as a country, we no longer believe a better future is possible.
The U.S. bishops also weighed in, calling not only for prayers for the victims but for legislation to help prevent mass shootings. “This shooting reminds us yet again that something is fundamentally broken in our society and culture when ordinary workplaces can become scenes of violence and contempt for human life,” Bishop Frank J. Dewane, the chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, said on June 1.
Something is also broken in our politics when, as a country, we no longer believe a better future is possible. Of course, there is a source of this despair: Since the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado 20 years ago, there have been 16 mass shootings with 10 or more victims. Yet Congress has been unable to pass and preserve gun safety laws that most Americans support, like universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and limits on ammunition clips.
The 12 victims at Virginia Beach—and the 100 Americans killed by guns each day in this country—deserve our attention, and we must recognize the injustice of their deaths. But more than that, we must direct that frustration and anger toward overcoming the political and moral complacency that accepts gun violence as a part of everyday life.