When my son came downstairs bleary-eyed Monday morning, I stopped him before he turned on the TV.
Buddy, I need to tell you something. There was a shooting last night. A bad one. Worse than Pulse.
He looked confused. Still sleepy. Trying to process my words.
He clicked the remote control, and chaotic images filled the screen. Lights flashed. People screamed. Shaky video showed concertgoers frantically fleeing from a rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tatthey couldn’t pinpoint.
My son took it all in through his wide teenage eyes … for about 30 seconds.
Then he turned the channel to ESPN.
My gut reaction was shock. How can you look away, son? How can you not want to know more?
But then it hit me … this is his normal.
He has grown up in a society where mass shootings are simply part of America — a country where adults seem to just accept them.
He saw 49 people slaughtered in his own backyard last year.
Four months ago, he saw another five people butchered in their workplace, just a few miles from our house.
Did you even remember the Fiamma slayings in east Orange County?
There was a day when corpses sprawled across an office was a big deal. Now it’s just another line in America’s “mass shootings” ledger — 520 shootings of four or more people since Pulse, according to the New York Times.
That is our children’s idea of normal. “It just seems to happen a lot,” my son would later say.
We saw 26 kids and staff slaughtered in an elementary school in Connecticut, 32 killed on a college campus in Virginia and then Orlando’s 49 — a number than seemed impossibly high until a massacre in another tourist town raised the corpse count to at least 59.
That’s more than 160 people killed by just four individuals. And America’s collective reaction has been to shrug.
“This is the price of freedom,” pundit Bill O’Reilly said of the Vegas shooting.
Just hours after Pulse — when then-presidential candidate Donald Trump heard the shooting might’ve been terrorist-related — he called for action. “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he tweeted while victims were still being treated, “I don’t want congrats, I want toughness and vigilance.”
So if we think a terrorist killed 49 people, we must get tough. But if an American psychopath kills 26, 32 or 59, we just shrug and accept it as the price of freedom.
I don’t. And I want my kids to know I don’t.
This country has gotten mechanical in its reaction to mass slayings. We lower flags, tweet prayers and vow to never forget.
Well, prayers without action are awfully hollow. As Pope Francis once said: “You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That is how prayer works.”
Well, what are you doing to back up your prayers? What are you demanding of the people you elected?
Or is it just flags and prayers while you wait for more bloodshed? How devout.
I don’t suffer delusions about easy answers. I think they’re quite complex. They involve mental health, law enforcement, the glorification of violence, people speaking up when they see something amiss, terrorism, racism, weapons in the wrong hands and the prevalence of weapons designed solely to slay as many humans as possible.
I think it is all of that. All.
For the most part, though, we do nothing.
In Florida, we talk about mental health after every shooting — and then do nothing.
We talk about how we need to make it harder for convicted criminals and the mentally ill to get guns — and then do nothing.
We praise law enforcement for its response to slayings — and then ignore those same officers when they ask us to do more to keep high-capacity weapons out of the hands of people trying to kill them.
Of course laws won’t prevent all slayings. Of course a psychopath can still kill with a pistol. Or a knife. Or a car. But if you don’t think there’s a difference between those things and the weapons used in Vegas, talk to some of the more than 500 people shot in rapid-fire succession Sunday night.
Really, it all boils down to two questions — questions I submit you should ask your elected officials:
Do you believe this regular bloodshed, this routine slaughter of your fellow Americans, is OK?
If you don’t, what do you actually want to do about it … other than send thoughts and prayers?
Our children believe this is normal. And accepted. God help us if we don’t prove them wrong.