The “New Normal” We Cannot Explain

Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

What will we say when our kids ask about this?

I’m watching the news coverage of the shooting in Orlando, and that’s what I keep asking myself.

Of the 30 deadliest mass shootings in American history, 14 have taken place in the nine years since the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007. Add in the casualties from Blacksburg and that’s 227 people, and perhaps more if the death toll in Orlando rises, killed in classrooms and movie theaters and night clubs. Regular folk murdered while doing regular folk things.

Mass shootings have become a sadly routine facet of American life. As I write this, from my couch in front of the TV, there are probably 60 people drinking and laughing and lounging at the pool just outside my windows. Days like today have become procedural. We know what happens, and know how to tune it out. We have resigned ourselves to the fact that we cannot change them. Orlandos happen. Maybe to us, but probably not. So we go on, regular folk doing regular things.

On the 5-year anniversary of the September 11th attacks, I thought about how difficult it would be to explain such a devastating event to my children one day. Even half a decade removed from it, I struggled to put that awful morning in context.

But now, I think my generation’s biggest challenge will be how we justify the acceptance of a decade of people massacring each other ruthlessly and at horrific scale. We need to do something. Anything. Especially about the visceral, foamy hatred we express toward one another daily.

I was watching CBS News’ live coverage of the shooting and the anchor asked his guest, a former FBI profiler, if mass shootings are “the new normal” in America. Her answer was so matter of fact it nearly doubled me over.

“Yes,” she said. “The short answer is yes. And the long answer is yes.”

Maybe our kids won’t ask, because they’ll already know.