Here are some names that have been in the news in the last year; see if you can remember any of them: Andrew Engeldinger. Kurt Myers. Dennis Clark. John Zawahri. Pedro Vargas. Ring any bells? In another country, each of these men would be nationally famous. But not here; they were in the news for a couple of days, and then quickly forgotten. Each of them committed a mass shooting in 2013. We have so many mass shootings—over 50 in the last two decades alone—we don't even bother to recall the perpetrators' names.
And guess what: yesterday's horrific shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington will be forgotten pretty quickly, too.
In this morning's New York Times, the Navy Yard shooting merited a one-column headline, along with "U.N. Implicates Syria in Using Chemical Arms" and "Push for Yellen To Lead at Fed Gathers Steam." My guess is that for most national news outlets, this will be a three-day story: yesterday was the first day ("This is happening"), today is the second day ("This happened"), and tomorrow will be the third day ("Here's some analysis of what happened"). It will get lengthier attention from outlets like The Washington Post and the D.C. radio and television stations, which cover local stories, but for everyone else, by the weekend attention will move on and we'll just wait around for the next massacre. This story will receive a fraction of the news coverage that, say, the Boston bombings got, despite the higher death toll.
And in truth, mass shootings are just a symptom of the disease. Twelve people were murdered at the Navy Yard yesterday, but in a typical day in America, about twice that number are killed with guns. It adds up to around 10,000 gun murders a year. We'll move heaven and earth to counter even the slightest risk of a terrorist attack, but the ongoing gun carnage? That's just the price of freedom.
Go to the NRA's website today, and you'll see that the people who fought so hard to make sure Aaron Alexis could get as many guns as he wanted have put a fluttering flag with the words, "We grieve and pray for those who lost their lives and for those hurt at the Washington Navy Yard." Yeah, I'm sure they're all broken up about it. Before using his guns to snuff out the lives of a dozen people, Aaron Alexis had already offered hints of what he was capable of. He had been arrested twice before, once for shooting out the tires of a car belonging to some construction workers he got into an argument with, and a second time for firing his gun through the ceiling of his apartment. But we couldn't possibly have made some attempt to make it harder for people like him to get their hands on guns, could we? Of course not.
Because Alexis was killed at the scene, we'll probably never know exactly what led up to yesterday, what personal demons and real or imagined workplace slights combined to bring him to plan his murders. But because he was an American, when Alexis was ready to kill, he had access to all the guns he could afford. The same will be true of the next mass shooter, and the next, and the one after that. And because there are so many of them, and they come along one after another after another, we'll forget their names too.