Elapsed time provides the ability to draw new and better conclusions than we could have in the snapshot of a moment. Nine years ago, I was at my desk at ESPN’s suburban Connecticut offices when my phone blew up with texts and calls from people who’d seen reports of a school massacre and knew that my sons, then 15 and 12, were both in school at the time. Fortunately–for my family at least–we lived 80 miles from Newtown and Sandy Hook is an elementary school while my boys were in high school and middle school.
Yesterday, when my phone lit up with notifications about another mass shooting, my youngest son, not yet two, was just coming home from the playground with his babysitter. The decade that lapsed between the Newtown massacre and yesterday’s in Uvalde, Tex., has unfortunately taught me, taught us, absolutely nothing. In 2012, as yesterday, I did what every parent did: embraced my kid and struggled to process how anyone could extinguish a life so early. How could they do it 18 times in rapid succession?
Then, as now, we won’t get an answer to that question. We also won’t get a direct answer to why half of the U.S. Senate won’t debate a bill that would close a loophole in the requirement for basic background checks in gun sales (although since the NRA still exists and at least half the country believes the “right” to unencumbered gun ownership is more important than life itself, we don’t have to wonder much about that one).
A decade on from Sandy Hook, only two things remain: words and a veil.
The words, we already know, don’t matter. Nothing I write here, nor the sum of millions of outraged tweets, the exhausted indignation of Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr’s pregame sermon on gun violence, or President Joe Biden’s solemn acceptance that consoling the nation after a mass shooting is now an unofficial presidential duty, will have an impact on what brought us to this point.
“I’d hoped, when I became president, I would not have to do this. Again,” is how Biden started his speech last night. But hope, like thoughts and prayers, isn’t an effective defense against a country full of AR-15s, so Bident’s optimism must have been tempered by the reality that many children in this country would die in gruesome mass shootings on his watch, as they did under his predecessors and as they will continue to do under his eventual successors.
If the words don’t matter, then that reality should lift the veil still shielding some of us from the fact that slaughtering schoolchildren, in fits of rage, gunpowder and muzzle flashes, is not an anomaly in this country. It is, painfully, normal. Schools, churches and supermarkets are not safe spaces. None of us can afford the delusion of expecting our kids to come home safely when anyone and everyone has access to the instruments of their demise.
If that sounds alarmist, good. Nothing about this moment should feel mundane.