Yesterday, the "unthinkable" happened. A deranged white gunman walked into a church, opened fire, and murdered at least 26 people, including multiple children, the pastor's teenage daughter, and a pregnant woman.
The shooter, who has since been identified as Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, was discharged from the United States Air Force in 2014 on the basis of "bad conduct," for assaulting his wife and fracturing his infant stepson's skull — a conviction that may not have kept him from buying a gun. At the time of the shooting, Kelley was wearing a ballistic vest and carried a military-style rifle; he was reportedly motivated by a domestic dispute.
The small town of Sutherland Springs, Texas is reeling in the aftermath of the massacre, as it no doubt will still be long after the headlines fade. But though what happened over the weekend is devastating, it's far from "unthinkable." We have grown accustomed to these kinds of events, not the shocking particulars, but the fact that they happen. The worst mass shooting in Lone Star State history is the most heartbreaking type of tragedy: the kind we know is coming, and still can't stop.
Long before Kelley burst into the small baptist congregation Sunday morning, there was plenty that we already knew about the next mass shooting in America, starting with the fact that there would be a next. We live in an era checkered with gun violence, overwhelmingly committed by men with histories of instability, using weapons that no ordinary citizen could possibly have need for. We know that — despite Sandy Hook, Charleston, Orlando, Virginia, Aurora and so many more — we have not yet reached a reckoning moment in American history where we're willing to do something to staunch the blood.
We know that anywhere could have been Sutherland Springs, and that somewhere else will be soon enough. Sunday was always coming. It will be back again, a nightmare we can count on it. Whatever your position on the Second Amendment, that is a terrifying reality that we will continue to inhabit together.
The litany of “thoughts and prayers” that began to pour in on Twitter — we knew those were on the way, too. #PrayforTexas is a trending hashtag that will last as long as our attention spans allow, or until we're praying for somewhere else. Politicians, public figures, and ordinary people have come out with messages of support and heartache for the victims and their families, which has become rote etiquette in the aftermath of mass shootings. Similarly, the business-as-usual debate has kicked off in high gear between gun advocates and anti-gun activists, both of which are following a familiar script: each faction accusing the other of exploiting a tragedy for their own cause. It's less a debate than a well-rehearsed play where every line is screamed.
A mere month ago, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, it seemed for a moment like our political representatives might look for a way to keep dangerous weaponry out of potentially dangerous hands. That's another thing that has happened before, too, though for a moment this time it seemed different — like maybe it could stick. But with the exception of Massachusetts, which banned the rapid-fire accessories only three days ago, on Friday, proposed bans on bump stocks have stalled out in Congress. And now here we still are, stuck in a terrible déjà vu that never subsides.
One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. What's unthinkably tragic is that we knew this would happen again, and still didn't do everything within our power to interrupt the cycle.