Elementary schools. College campuses. Churches. Military bases. Movie theaters. Health clinics. And now a center in California that helps children and adults with developmental disabilities.
It seems there’s no place safe from mass shootings.
We still don’t know everything about what happened inside the sprawling Inland Regional Services center in San Bernardino on Wednesday morning.
We know that at least 14 people are dead and that at least 17 others were injured. We know that three people are to blame and that police shot at least two of them dead — one male, one female. We know they arrived in a dark-colored SUV, had explosive devices and entered the building carrying long guns.
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We know that Inland Regional Services, the largest in California’s network of 21 regional centers, is filled with caseworkers who connect people with disabilities with the services they need. But we know the shooters zeroed in on a conference room where the San Bernardino County Public Health Department was hosting a holiday party.
We also know that this doesn’t feel like the dozens – or, depending on your method for counting, hundreds – of other mass shootings in United States in recent years.
This wasn’t a lone, mentally disturbed gunman intent on wreaking havoc, which is something that – and this says nothing good about Americans – we’ve somehow come to grasp. But this was something else. Something scarier.
San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan made that clear at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. The shooters, he said, “were dressed and equipped in a way that indicates they were prepared. ... They came prepared to do what they did, as if they were on a mission. They came in with a purpose.”
While the FBI was reluctant to call it terrorism, what happened at Inland Regional Services was terrifying. But so are all other mass shootings.
No matter what you call it, though, the root of the problem is the same: America allows too many guns to fall into the hands of too many people who shouldn’t have them. It’s one reason we have the dubious distinction of leading the world in mass shootings.
As President Barack Obama said: “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world, and there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”
Several Republican presidential candidates said they were praying for the victims and their families. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton took a different tack: “I refuse to accept this as normal.” Her words echo Obama’s after the country’s last mass shooting, less than a week ago at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. “This is not normal,” Obama said. “We can’t let it become normal.”
Sadly, for many Americans, these shootings, these acts of domestic terrorism, have become just that. Normal. Today, every school kid knows what “an active shooter situation” means. Employees in do drills in drab office buildings so that they know what to do when and if the time comes.
We should be thankful that law enforcement, paramedics, hospitals and others reacted quickly, the way they have been trained after so many similar incidents across the country. They almost certainly saved lives. But it's still a troubling commentary on our times.
Changing this dangerous level of acceptance of our new normal will require doing all of the things we already know we must do. Stricter gun laws, better services for the mentally ill and summoning the political willpower to do both.