On Wednesday, about three hours after a troubled television reporter murdered two of his former colleagues on live television in Virginia, a judge in Colorado sentenced James Holmes to 12 lifetime sentences for the massacre of 12 people in Aurora, plus another 3,318 years behind bars.
“Get the defendant out of my courtroom,” Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. said in disgust as he instructed a deputy to banish the schizophrenic man from a society grown weary of gun crime.
The Virginia shooter committed suicide. But rest assured, America will meet another gun defendant today, and tomorrow, and the next day. There are thousands of them, and more to come, unless this nation gets serious about gun control and mental health care.
The litany is achingly familiar: An unstable person in the throes of a breakdown gets his hands on a pistol or an assault rifle, fires it, kills or wounds someone, or scores of someones. Another national gun debate begins, and ends.
Until the next one.
When people die, they take a whole world with them. Think about how many worlds have been lost, just in this year, to our refusal to control firearms.
How many more of these scenes can this country take until we get serious about meaningful gun control? How many deranged gunmen will kill as a result of untreated psychological problems and ready access to firearms? Every time, we hear the same sickening excuses. Every time, we grow more resigned. Every time, we let the moment for action pass into the wind.
As WDBJ7’s Alison Parker and Adam Ward were gunned down on Wednesday – by a man who had been fired for his rage issues and urged to seek treatment, yet was able to buy a firearm legally in Virginia – the National Rifle Association was no doubt readying for the next election, preparing new e-mail solicitations, boasting of its nearly seven years of success in thwarting President Barack Obama’s gun control efforts.
Parker’s father, wracked with shock and grief, said this: “You look at this, you look at Newtown, you look at the movie theater shooter. How many times does this have to happen before we take a look at this as a country and the politicians grow some backbone and stop being lackeys of the NRA?”
How long, indeed?
More than 8,500 people have died from gun violence this year. Most merit at most a news brief or a mention on local TV news before fading away.
Their names are not forgotten in the hearts of their loved ones, who must feel the rage and despair Parker’s father expressed. When people die, they take a whole world with them. Think about how many worlds have been lost, just in this year, to our refusal to control firearms and our inadequate treatment of mental illness.
It’s said that the definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. The madness of this continuous tape loop of gun horror plays out each day in America, and yet we do nothing, again and again.
In our lifetimes, the United States has seen a president shot in the back seat of a car, a president shot as he exited a hotel, a U.S. senator shot in a hotel pantry, a civil rights leader shot on his motel balcony, and thousands upon thousands of humbler and less heralded humans – schoolchildren, theatergoers, workers – annihilated in fusillades of bullets.
How many times must we watch before we take a good look at ourselves as a country, Parker’s father asks?
Tragically, we already know the answer. Too many more.