Why do mass shootings keep happening? Because this is what we've allowed America to become.

·6 min read

Hours after 19 children were killed during a Texas elementary school mass shooting, Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, made an impassioned plea from the Senate floor for members of Congress to do something.

In his speech, Murphy begs senators to take action, any action, to help the country wrestle with shootings.

He repeats a question that I would guess many, if not most, Americans are asking this morning. It's one that has haunted me for decades.

"What are we doing?" Murphy asked. "Days after a shooter walked into a grocery store to gun down African American patrons we have another Sandy Hook on our hands. What are we doing?"

Senator, I can help with that. We're doing nothing. Not a thing. Because this is who we are. This is America.

Texas shooting and our cycle of gun violence acceptance

We are a country that for generations has been the home of mass shootings. We're a nation where children have to learn active shooter drills. We are a country with political leadership that sits on its collective hands instead of taking meaningful action to stop it.

My son never came home from Sandy Hook: My heart bleeds for Texas as I relive Dylan's murder.

We're a country with a well-established cycle of fright, anger and sadness that washes over us just before it gives way to acceptance. The idea of somebody sending "thoughts and prayers" has been so repeatedly used that it has become a meme to signify a lack of action. It's a shrug.

The Texas school shooting, which took the lives of at least 19 children, is the latest example of our violent identity.

I first had this realization in 2021 when eight people, including six Asian women, had been gunned down in Atlanta, and their personal stories were starting to be reported. It was gut-wrenching.

I thought about it again less than two weeks ago when 10 people were killed in Buffalo, New York.

A culture of violence that is our new normal

I thought about it when colleagues pointed out that gun violence went up during the pandemic.  A Johns Hopkins report showed that in 2020, "gun deaths reached the highest number ever recorded" in the country. It also found that guns were the leading cause of death among children and teens, passing COVID-19, cancer and car crashes.

Think about that. Gun violence was more dangerous than a global pandemic for our children in the same year that pandemic ran rampant.

We owe 19 children killed our rage: Be angry about Texas school shooting

The FBI said this week that active shooter incidents increased by more than 50% last year.

Honestly, we’re not closer to change, any change, than we were when 20 children were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School a decade ago in Newtown, Connecticut. I wasn't the only one who thought Sandy Hook was the shooting that would shake us into action.

Let me be clear about some things for the sake of my Twitter mentions. I am not advocating for a ban on all guns or that the Second Amendment needs to go away. I do believe in a certain level of gun rights and was raised around them.

Hunting with my grandfather is still one of my favorite childhood memories. But I didn't have to worry about hiding in a classroom from an active shooter. That my son's generation does is too much to even think about.

What else has to happen?

We have crossed every metaphorical line of rage without lifting a single finger to do anything about it.

We’ve seen churches, schools, music festivals, grocery stores, movie theaters and any number of other public places become memorials. We’ve even had assassination attempts of elected officials.

Don't forget the victims: Don't look away from the 10 Black lives lost in Buffalo to racism and gun violence

So why isn’t change coming and where are our leaders? Instead of doing anything, they’re throwing political darts at each over any number of trivial things.

Students in classrooms can't be taught about anything related to race. Teachers can't have conversations about gender. But we're good with active shooter drills being a part of the curriculum? Make it make sense.

In this Dec. 14, 2013, file photo, a makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn., on the one-year anniversary of the shootings.
In this Dec. 14, 2013, file photo, a makeshift memorial with crosses for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting massacre stands outside a home in Newtown, Conn., on the one-year anniversary of the shootings.

The truth is Murphy's plea for help and for any kind of legislation that might lessen the possibility of these mass shootings has already gone viral, but it won't motivate action from our lawmakers.

Presidents give speeches and flags are lowered. But then what?

It’s not just a lack of action on gun legislation or enforcement of existing regulations that got my attention, though.

Mental health help isn't coming either, by the way

There is also the mental health issue. This gets batted around every so often as at least a partial explanation for mass shootings. Mental health issues have especially been a point of conversation of late on college campuses and around the discussions being had on suicide as the country comes out of the pandemic.

Obviously, we have a wave of health care and prescription changes coming, right? Congress and President Joe Biden are days away from announcing bipartisan legislation and executive orders that will shake our health care system into usefulness.

No? Do you mean we're going to keep with the same inaction that contributes to the gun violence America finds itself riddled with? We're going to just sit here and wait for the next tragedy to kick off the same round of reactions and political jockeying while we pretend to care about fixing it?

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I do know that people are trying. I see that in rallies and on social media. I'm aware that some politicians are more open to stricter gun laws and outright bans on weapons and are actively pushing for better health care that could help with more than just gun violence. I'm not oblivious to this, and I don't mean to disrespect those efforts. Please don't stop.

I just can't shake the reality that those efforts are the David to a Goliath of resistance that, unlike the story in the Bible, won't get vanquished by slinging small rocks of rebellion.

It will take holistic change that reaches the nation's core fabric and a level of investment of time, money and public policy that I'm convinced we won't ever be able to pull off.

Until then, this is who we are, and I hate it.

Louie Villalobos is a member of the USA TODAY Editorial Board. Follow him on Twitter: @louievillalobos  

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Texas school shooting proves again that this is what America is

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