These Tragedies

By Caleb Dunson

Three mass shootings in 10 days. 32 dead.

213 mass shootings this year. In classrooms, in churches, in nightclubs. At flea markets, on street corners, at community events. On trains, in cars, in homes.

After the Parkland mass shooting, we marched out of schools across the country mourning those lives lost and demanding gun control. But four years and over fifteen hundred mass shootings later, it seems we’ve marched to nowhere. 

Far away on Capitol Hill, our politicians will strut across marble floors to sit in their grand chambers and make pronouncements about the horrible tragedy of these mass shootings. They will give speeches, put together press clips, and post statements on social media so that everyone will know how bad they feel about the tragedy. Then they will tell us that there is nothing they can do to stop a future tragedy. 

We will grieve. The thoughts and prayers, Twitter takes, and think pieces will circulate for a few days. We will argue a bit over what we can do about this tragedy. Some of us will protest. Some of us will vote. A lot of us will move on. None of it will matter. 

It won’t matter because we court violence in this country. We have invaded and stolen and enslaved. We have raped and beaten and lynched. We have tortured and shot and bombed. We have done these things under the banner of the red white and blue, in defense of life, liberty, and property.

The mistake we make is in seeing violence as an aberration in our nation’s history, as an unfortunate stumble in pursuit of a more perfect union. Violence is a necessary component of the American project. It takes center stage in an ongoing story that indicts the character of our nation. The collective dance we do in moments like these –– the outpouring of emotion, the government inaction, the acceptance of the status quo –– shows just how accustomed we have become to this pattern, 415 years long, of American depravity. 

That we refuse to meaningfully confront this tremendous failure of state formation and governance is troubling. That we normalize these perverse events, this mass death, is disturbing. It is a display of willful ignorance of America’s moral stench, which is growing more pungent by the day. 

The moralizing usually comes at this point in pieces like these; the “here’s what you should do to stop this from happening again” kind of rhetoric. But I have nothing left to say. I can’t tell you what to do with this information. I can’t tell you because I don’t know. I don’t know what to do when communities are suffering, people are dying, and help is nowhere to be found. I don’t know what to do when our government is, and has always been, failing in its most fundamental duty: keeping us safe. And even if I did know what to do, I’m not sure it would be enough to stop a slide toward ruin four centuries in the making.

So for now I will just continue to hope and pray that, against all odds, these tragedies will end.