The headlines on the radio seeped into my sleeping brain on Monday morning, barely registering as more than a dream, until I was wrenched out of sleep at a phrase I hadn’t expected to hear so soon after hearing it the last time just over a year ago: “...the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.” The phrase smacked me awake, and I blinked, wondering if it could be right. Again.
I lay there and listened for a few more minutes as my mind shed sleep in waves. Las Vegas Strip … country music festival … Mandalay Bay … hundreds injured, several dead. Finally, I managed to mutter an expletive.
“I know,” my husband said. He’d been lying next to me, awake, for several minutes, listening as I snoozed through the clock radio’s blaring of the morning news.
Not only was the massacre on Sunday in Las Vegas the most destructive mass shooting in recent memory, it was by a lot. The illustrations in Tuesday’s newspaper, with dots marking the number of injured and dead, occupied much more of the page than the previous shootings we had to compare it to.
In the hours following the shooting, in The Southern’s newsroom, I watched the death toll and number of injured rise. Wire reports came out with details about the shooter — what he did for work, what kind of man he was. And reports came out about victims — regular, nice people; music fans, like me — about what they did for work, who they were, what they liked.
A motive wasn’t clear. As far as we know, the shooter hadn’t said anything during the shooting — after all, he was stories above his victims, firing his legally purchased semiautomatic rifles, some of which were modified with legal bump stocks to make them more like machine guns, from a hotel window as chaos and carnage unfolded below. And it appears he hadn’t left behind some kind of manifesto.
Pundits were quick to blame mental illness — an NPR guest was going through the usual post-mass shooting checklist on Monday morning as I ground my jaw in annoyance while getting ready for work: Mental illness is the real problem, gun apologists will continue to insist. (According to information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Most people with mental illness are not violent and only 3%-5% of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness.")
But ultimately, motive doesn’t matter. Motives have varied in the mass shootings that happen here with ridiculous frequency: Rejection from women. Politics. Principles. Domestic disagreements. Disgruntled employees.
The motives vary, but each of these attacks has an obvious common denominator.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday that now is not the time to talk about gun control, saying there is a time and a place for "political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country." If not now, when? If not after (yet again) the deadliest mass shooting in our country's modern history, then when?
But maybe she’s right. There’s never a good time to talk about gun control, because there’s never a good time to bash one’s head into a wall repeatedly.
Watching footage of the shooting, of the moment those shots rang out, I kept thinking how much it reminded me of footage from war zones. It’s no coincidence — this is a country so enamored with war, it has chosen to wage war on itself. It’s just so easy for us.
As we planned Tuesday’s newspaper, I was conflicted. We ultimately chose to give our entire front page to coverage of Sunday’s shooting. It was historic, after all.
I just can’t help but think we’ll be doing this again. It’s just a matter of when. Next week? Next month? Likely within the next year or two.
Monday night, hours after that headline wrenched me from sleep, I listened to the evening news as I chopped scallions, potatoes bubbling away on the stove and salmon fillets sizzling in the oven. This is what we Americans do best — move on, get distracted — by what we'll eat for dinner, by our president's tweets, by the next shiny object.
In the back of our minds, we say silent prayers we won’t be there when it inevitably happens next time. And the time after that. And the time after that. And the time after that.
ALEE QUICK is digital editor of The Southern. Her columns include her own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinion or editorial position of The Southern. She can be reached at email@example.com or 618-351-5807. Follow her on Twitter: @the_quickness