The flag positioned at half-mast was the only indication that anything had happened at all. American University was lush with early-autumn excitement and the quad was full of beginning-of-the-semester, carefree energy. There were no panicked email alerts, no worried conversations, and no stressed faces.
Meanwhile, only eight miles away, 12 people lay dead by the hands (well, guns) of a mentally ill aggressor in an office building in Washington’s Navy Yard. He was dead too.
Looking around, I was forced to accept a sad reality. My generation has grown numb to this sort of violence. Mass shootings have become so commonplace that they’re hardly worth mentioning in everyday conversation anymore, even hours after a gruesome incident.
I was a freshman in high school when the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech shocked the nation. My classmates and I went to college knowing that schools, like workplaces, are threatened by the awful repercussions of our (at best) ineffectual mental healthcare system and lax gun-control laws.
The bloodshed at Washington’s Navy Yard was the sixteenth mass shooting in 2013. Yes, No. 16.
Before the week was over, another shooting occurred, this time in a Chicago park. It left 13 people wounded, including a 3-year-old boy.
How many of these massacres do we actually know about? How many of these stories stay in the news stream for long enough to pique anyone’s interest?
Perhaps our disinterest is no more than a defense mechanism. Maybe we are scared that a deeper reflection upon these tragedies would send us all spiraling into depression.
Or, more likely, we all hold the underlying assumption that getting upset is futile. Each of the most media-covered mass shootings (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, etc.) prompted an influx of proposed legislation in Congress. After the Newtown shooting, 24 bills were proposed, and only one passed.
The consequences of this indifference are heavy. If young people aren’t alarmed enough by a local massacre that they’re propelled to take action, we’re in trouble.
Whether you believe that the collective insanity of this nation is a result of incomprehensive gun control legislation or unfortified mental health initiatives or both is of secondary importance. The important thing is that we get a dialogue going. We can’t afford to become jaded.