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The Death Loop

It’s been two minutes since the shooting stopped. Everyone who will be shot is shot. Most who will die are dead, but some are still dying.

A snippet of video, just recorded, is being shared, a person running, the rat-tat-tat of rifle fire in the background. (Automatic? Semi-automatic? This will matter later.)

Reporters are retweeting eyewitness accounts. “We heard the shots then everybody started running. Oh my god. :(” The phones on the bodies are starting to ring.

“My brother just texted me saying there’s an #activeshooter and to stay safe.” Active shooter. The first touch of unreality. When did we start saying that? When did ordinary people—civilians—start using that term?

It’s been 30 minutes since the shooting stopped. A few internet creeps are sharing profile photos and rumors and chatter they heard on police frequencies, but they are overwhelmed by an army of reporters and casual observers saying “please, please don’t get ahead of the facts.” Many people must say this now. Many people must make it known that the facts will come, we have been here before.

I know how to responsibly run a social media account as an attack unfolds, unlike the rest of you.  

It’s been an hour since the shooting stopped. The shooter is dead. He killed himself. There have been rumors of gunfire elsewhere in the city, but the police believe he acted alone. First reports say at least five are dead.

It’s been twelve hours since the shooting stopped. Fifty are dead.

 “This is not the time for politics,” offers the pundit, saying what he believes will look good in retrospect. “The bodies are not yet cold, you ghoul,” offers another, impersonating virtue, on his own behalf on behalf of strangers. Politics isn’t for when we remember, it’s for when we forget. Politics is for when no one is paying attention. Politics isn’t for the bloody venue or the football field or the morning cooking show or the late night comedy show. It isn’t for the preventable shootings or storms strengthened by climate change. Politics is for nothing and for no one. Politics is people arguing on television. Politics is broken. Politics can’t solve problems anymore. Everybody knows that.

Don’t politicize this tragedy, begs the nurse, as the pillow comes down over your face.

“There are no words,” says a politician who has seen movies and is always in one. You usually have plenty of words. You typed “there are no words” into your phone, which is a strange way to be speechless. And it’s not like you’ve been caught off guard. This happens all the time now. All the time. Every day. At the very least, just say what you said when it happened a few months ago. Remember a few months ago? The last time the body count was high enough to pierce the national consciousness? The last time everyone had to issue statements? “My thoughts and prayers to all those touched by this senseless tragedy. Now is the time to put politics aside and come together.”

It’s been one day since the shooting stopped. Was he a lone wolf? Inspired by ISIS? A racist? A misogynist? Did he shoot up a church or a mosque or a school or a theater or a concert or a mall or an office or a bank or a restaurant or a home or a street or a park or a school or a school or a school or a school or a school? Whose politics did the killer claim? Who owns this? Who owns the internal logic of the person who would do this? Who tries to ignore the little kernel of disappointment that he wasn’t Muslim? Who tries to ignore the little kernel of relief?

It’s been one week since the shooting stopped, and it’s still not the time for politics. It’s time for children to practice escaping a mass shooter, as routine as a fire drill. It’s time to legalize silencers and suppressors, as if we are bored with this game and believe it’s time to increase the difficulty. It’s time for a nagging anxiety about being in a crowded space. It’s time for conservative intellectuals to explain guns to us. To explain the peculiarity of this incident, and how the shooter got the guns legally or illegally, which in any case doesn’t matter one way or another; how liberals confuse semi-automatic weapons with automatic weapons rendering everything they say invalid; how automatic weapons are banned which is why so few are used in mass shootings, but also that gun control doesn’t work. Confused? If you’ll excuse me I’ll be dismissing climate science with a wave of the hand. But when it comes to gun control I am a technocrat neck deep in the research and you should stay in your lane.

Yes there is a clear connection between guns and gun deaths, yes, that Onion headline again, but if you see the footnote on page 5, the magazine capacity restriction was actually enacted on a Wednesday…

Even in our saturated, over-exposed world, with endless words and images, mayhem visible from every angle, we still refuse to admit to ourselves just what we are looking at. It’s as plain as can be. We are too comfortable with slaughter. And not just those of us who say it’s the price of freedom. We call for “common sense gun laws,” a neutered little phrase, and we lament the NRA and Republican intransigence but if we are honest, if we are truly honest with ourselves, we have given into hopelessness. We have surrendered to the death loop.

Mass shootings are not inevitable. Mass shootings can be stopped. But not without interrupting the routine nearly all of us have settled into. That would require examining whether the ways we in the media cover and sensationalize mass shootings is encouraging copycats. That means learning from the successes that U.S. states and other countries have had reducing gun violence through restrictions on sales, background checks, waiting periods, and a regime of training, permitting, and registration. That means that we must be as committed to winning the fight over guns as our opponents—we must be willing to fight primaries and elections on this issue. And as we demand the removal of weapons of war from our streets, we can concede to Republicans: this is about more than guns. The minds of these men are broken. Our culture is broken. And we have to face that too.

We have to face all of it. We have to break the death loop. There is a simple question that every single candidate should have to answer in order to get our votes: What is your plan to prevent mass shootings?

If we refuse to ask and answer that question, then we’re stuck with this. The most ghoulish lottery system in any country not beset by civil war. An evil idea has spread like a virus in the psyches of damaged, lonely men: that to die alone is not enough. That there is power in taking others with you, that you can show the world, that you can make them pay, that this is valid and practical and easy and possible and our laws and politics will not stop you. Open fire and be famous. Open fire and the world will know your name, even if only for a moment. This is America and you will be a star. This is America and you can turn your death—quiet and small—into something big. This is America and we will let you experience that. There is nothing in your way. Shoot us.

It’s been two minutes since the last attack. The phones on the bodies are starting to ring. And elsewhere in some sad, ugly mind, an idea is taking hold.