After Las Vegas, Nothing Will Change

Until we elect leaders with the courage to act on guns, all we can do is wait for the next tragedy

A man lays on top of a woman as others flee the Route 91 Harvest country music festival grounds. (David Becker/Getty Images)

AT LEAST 59 PEOPLE WERE KILLED and more than 500 others were injured after a gunman opened fire at a country music festival in Las Vegas on Sunday night. It was the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history.

For now.

Americans have witnessed and endured countless mass shootings over the past two decades. And yet, we — a country awash in upwards of 265 million guns — somehow continue to ask ourselves why America became a place of relentless carnage.

We wonder why we’ve become a nation where Las Vegas concertgoers dive behind vehicles as bullets rain down from above. Where dozens of young adults are gunned down at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Where first graders are slaughtered in a Connecticut elementary school. Where regular Americans are no longer safe in movie theaters and shopping malls, and places of worship.

After every tragedy, we work tirelessly to rationalize the endless bloodshed. We comfort each other. We come together to bury the dead. We tell ourselves that despite our feelings of hopelessness, we are resilient, that good will triumph over evil, and that we’ll never forget — that nothing can get any worse

And yet deep down, we all know the uncomfortable truth: it will happen again. The only unknowns are when, where, and how many Americans we will lose in the next rampage.

We know that mass shootings won’t end. In fact, history suggests that that they will only get worse — with the body count climbing higher and higher. Our nation is locked in a never-ending cycle of death, mourning and questioning, drenched in the blood of our ever-deepening wounds.

We know that the responses will be the same. It’s a predictable and twisted ritual. Flags will be lowered to half staff. Statements and tweets with the hollow offerings of “thoughts and prayers” will fill our newsfeeds. Our representatives, especially those in the pocket of the gun lobby, will stand in Congress and point fingers at anything or anyone but themselves: religious extremism, mental illness, racial hatred, even video games. Some of them will even argue that these tragedies are “the price of freedom.”

Most disturbing of all, we know that nothing will change.

There were times when I was confident that something would be done. After Newtown in 2012, I remember the images of the candlelight vigils and the grieving parents holding images of their fallen sons and daughters. President Obama, who wiped away tears at the White House podium, demanded that “these tragedies must end.” The pressure on Congress to act was enormous. Two senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, put forth a bipartisan bill to tighten federal background checks on gun purchases.

But as we know all too well, any sense of unity that each tragedy delivers is always too brief, shattered by the inaction of lawmakers who are more than willing to sacrifice the lives of their fellow countrymen for electoral gain. Led by the National Rifle Association, the gun debate quickly shifted from saving the lives of children to false and alarmist claims of a national gun registry. The initial outrage fizzled. The bill was shot down.

Newtown was supposed to be our turning point — an event so horrifying that it would force us to say “enough is enough.” Instead, nearly five years later, we’ve elected a Republican Congress that does the bidding of firearm manufacturers, and a president with the endorsement of the NRA. If Newtown wasn’t enough to spur action then, Las Vegas sure as hell won’t be enough now.

I wish I could write that we could be better than this. But I can’t. The scenes of panicked crowds and the sounds of gunfire will eventually fade into our memories. We will follow the same script, make the same political arguments, read the same opinion pieces like this one, and move onto a fresh story in a few weeks. For the vast majority of us that remain untouched by gun violence, life will continue as normal. The status quo will remain.

President Trump used the interesting phrase “American carnage” in his inaugural address, and declared that it “stops right here and stops right now.”

But the American carnage hasn’t stopped. And until we elect leaders with the courage to stop the madness, all we can do is wait for the next tragedy.

Follow us on Twitter at @readbyline and like us on Facebook. Apply to become a Byline contributor here. Send tips and questions The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of Byline.

After Las Vegas, Nothing Will Change was originally published in Byline on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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