Trying to comprehend the impossible
Again … another deadly mass shooting.
Again … we struggle for a response. We struggle to explain the unexplainable, to understand, to react, to make sense of a horrific act that makes no sense at all, that defies all normal sensibilities.
What’s being termed the largest mass shooting in U.S. history left, as I write this, 58 people dead and more than 500 injured after a lone gunman opened fire on a crowd of concert-goers in Las Vegas Sunday night. The unwelcome record eclipsed one set just 14 months ago when another gunman killed 49 and left 58 others wounded at an Orlando, Florida nightclub.
A decade ago, 32 died in the shooting at Virginia Tech. In 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook. The tallies vary, but there’ve been nearly 150 other deaths as a result of 15 other mass shootings across the country since we ushered in the new century. Two of those occurred here in Colorado, at an Aurora movie theater and a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado Springs. They followed the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton that left a 13 dead.
I’d intended to write about lighter matters this week, juggling possibilities that included how we’ve benefited locally from 25 years of collaboration with Great Outdoors Colorado or perhaps a whimsical look at the “much ado about very little” controversy involving the renaming of North Avenue.
But, as I’m occasionally reminded, editorial page commentary should be about “important stuff.” On this rainy morning, 500 or so safe miles away from the carnage, the luxury of choosing a topic is eclipsed by the sorrow and horror over events none of us can understand or control.
Sometimes there’s a topic that commands attention. This is one of — no, make that another of — those unfortunate times.
We all know by now what to expect in the coming days and weeks.
There’ll be the usual expressions of condolence, the ongoing updates from the investigation, the revitalized arguments about gun control and renewed calls for improved mental health screening. We’ll learn more than we’ll ever need to know about the gunman’s history and be subjected to far too many talking heads, most of dubious credentials, pontificating for far too long before their ramblings degenerate into shouting matches “moderated” by a befuddled or bemused host.
And, in a month or so, we’ll be left wondering when we’ll next pick up the morning paper or turn on the television and repeat that unsatisfying routine after still another incident, certain that will likely come sooner rather than later.
Opinion columns, at their best, outline a problem or issue and provide some food for thought, often in the form of a single possible solution or several alternatives, that provoke thought and discussion. In this one, I have nothing to offer.
Just short of four years ago, I wrote on these pages about our “geography of violence” (a term coined by Joanne Ostrow of the Denver Post) shortly after the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial left one student seriously wounded. At that point, four of the 19 school shootings that started with Columbine had occurred here in Colorado. At that time, no other state had a higher total of shootings at schools.
“The fact is that it remains impossible to prevent the unpreventable.” I wrote back then. “No matter what precautions we take, they’ll always be a way for a deranged mind to circumvent them.”
Somehow, as many as 19 guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were taken up to the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Hotel last week. Sunday night, hundreds of bullets rained down on concert goers for 10-15 minutes, at least some from a fully automatic weapon, leaving nearly 600 people dead or wounded before the gunman killed himself.
I’ll leave you with something else from that 2013 column.
“Let’s leave to others, at least for a while, the arguments about gun laws and all the politics that will inevitably surround this latest tragic incident.”
“Let’s instead pray for the families involved and hope the short- and long-term healing that’ll be necessary, once again, can begin quickly and ultimately bring some relief.
And perhaps ponder what we might do to make certain we don’t inhabit a “geography of violence.”