Something disturbing happened last week. And I'm not just talking about a mentally unstable man opening fire on workers at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 of them. That of course is tragic and upsetting. But what's extra disturbing is that it wasn't shocking. And if the reaction to this shooting is any indication, it seems we have become desensitized to mass murders at the hands of lunatic gunmen.
When my boyfriend called me the morning of September 16th, we first discussed the remodel of our home and who could meet with the contractor later that day. After we got through a few details, he casually asked if I'd heard about the shooting. Instead of being alarmed and wanting to know all the specifics as I had in the past, my first reaction was to ask, "Where did it happen this time?"
This time. Apparently, the news of several dead bodies at the hands of a maniac with a gun no longer rattles me. Which disgusts me. But that's apparently the new status quo.
After our conversation, I turned on the TV, looking for information about the shooting. I had to flip through several channels to find a report. No networks had broken into regular programing, or if they had, it was so short-lived that less than an hour after the shooting, they were already back to their normal schedule. There was no continuous coverage like we've seen in the past.
Later that day at work it wasn't the topic du jour. No one was hitting the "refresh" button on their computer and passing along updated information as they had countless times before.
Even social media was somewhat silent. I saw only a handful of posts throughout the day related to the shooting. No one seemed surprised, just resigned. "Another mass shooting today. This time in the nation's capital," one friend wrote.
There's that "this time" again.
For another example of just how limited our interest has become in gun-related tragedy, consider this: A full week later, the attention whores at the Westboro Baptist Church still haven't threatened to picket the funerals of the dead or blamed the event on gay marriage. Killing a bunch of unsuspecting people with a gun just isn't that newsworthy anymore.
NBC News covered the story as part of their regularly-scheduled newscast stating: "Besides being the deadliest U.S. shooting rampage since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December, when 20 children and six adults were killed in Newtown, Monday's spree was the deadliest on a U.S. military installation since 13 people were killed at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009."
Re-read that. It essentially says, "This is the worst mass shooting in eight months and, also, it's the worst one connected to the military in about four years."
Is the idea that we had an eight-month break between horrific mass killings, and about four years since they happened in the same work environment, supposed to be comforting? Have we really gotten to the point where the number of months we check off a calendar between mass shootings measures any type of success?
I am not anti-guns. I grew up in a hunting family. My dad had a number of shotguns in the house and many times our dinner menu was a reflection of my dad's efforts. My boyfriend also grew up hunting. And while he now prefers golfing, he has guns in our home that are sentimental keepsakes of his childhood. Guns don't make me uncomfortable. And I don't believe there's a political agenda to come seize them.
But I do believe there should be stronger limitations on who can purchase them.
By any rational account, the man who shot 12 people last week, Aaron Alexis, should never have been allowed to purchase a gun. He'd had previous encounters with police in Texas and Washington State following gun-related incidents. Last month, he complained to police someone was using a microwave to send vibrations through the ceiling and into his body to keep him from sleeping. Alexis had a long, documented list of serious mental-health issues, and he was being treated for paranoia and hallucinations. Yet none of that prevented him buying that gun.
Because a judge never declared him mentally ill and because he hadn't been committed to a hospital, he was able to pass the federal background check and buy a law-enforcement-style shotgun just two days before indiscriminately killing a dozen people.
I don't believe you should have to be committed to a psych ward to be proven unfit to buy a firearm. People with a history of severe mental illness shouldn't be able to buy weapons for the same reason people who are blind are not allowed to fly a plane. At some point, our right not to get shot trumps someone else's right to purchase a gun.
Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee seemingly disagree. You might recall, in April, they both led the opposition against a bill for expanded background checks that were, in part, aimed at keeping the seriously mentally ill from acquiring firearms.
Perhaps if they'd taken a stand and acted in the interest of public safety, effective legislation could have been passed and Aaron Alexis would not have been able to buy that gun. And maybe there wouldn't have been another this time. We can only hope they consider that as we wait for next time.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.