Frantic parents, slaughtered children. Adults who chose to devote their careers to teaching and caring, murdered. A community terrorized. Emotions raw.
It's another shooting here in the USA.
The next steps have become rote and generic: initial reports with conflicting details, a dearth of reliable information. Lone gunman or more shooters? Gunman dead of self-inflicted wound, taken down by responding officers, or alive? Shooter dressed all in black. Military-style gear. Assault weapon? Semi-automatic handgun? Rifle? Questions about motive racism, jealousy, revenge, mental illness? We go through this same long-established routine after each shooting. Audiotapes of 911 calls, hastily-arranged press conferences.
Aurora movie theater awash in blood. Seattle coffee shop, patrons blown away. Teens in Florida, dead for being black. Salt Lake City shopping mall, unspeakable devastation. Sikhs murdered in their temple in Wisconsin. Columbine. Virginia Tech. Fort Hood. Now Newtown.
The emotional energy and time we spend as a result of gun violence in America is phenomenal. Gun violence is percolating in the periphery all the time. In every corner of this country, workplaces, schools and hospitals routinely practice for these violent episodes. Managers warily eye their employees, wondering who will crack. In some families, people think about one of their own and hold their breath.
Police have intricate protocols prepared in advance, because everyone knows it will happen again. We are on the ready. It's part of the job for radio and TV hosts no one knows when a community's normal day will turn to agony. Public relations professionals throughout America keep a somber suit of clothes in their offices, just in case. Counselors, too, wait for their day to respond. We all grieve with the victims of each new tragedy, silently praying this uniquely American problem never comes close to us.
But what's been absent from the predictability and the routine and the seemingly increasing frequency of American gun violence is a huge, grassroots, nationwide backlash. And it's the one thing that could change our trajectory. Gun violence will never go away, but we can reduce it drastically.
The insidious slogan that guns don't kill people has done incalculable damage to this country. What will it take for a grassroots gun protest to begin? When will we vanquish the gun lobby once and for all?
Another predictable part of the immediate aftermath of a terrible shooting is the inevitable appearance of gun proponents calling for the public to "put aside politics" out of "respect for the victims." I am not in the mood to let that slimy trick go unchallenged this time.
Out of respect for the victims, all of them around our country, we need to recognize that our society is sick. Gravely sick. Our approach to gun ownership is not healthy. We need to retire the lie that guns keep people safe. We need to retire the lie that regular Americans must be allowed to purchase, without hindrance of any kind, a weapon that takes lives. We have to make it much harder to buy guns. We also have to do more for our mentally ill. We should look to other countries and learn from them.
We can have a more peaceful society. We sure want one. Especially now, as our hearts are breaking yet again, as we watch families in Connecticut whose Christmases and Hanukkahs have turned to devastation, we desperately want a more peaceful society. I'm not sure why we don't realize that all we need to do is act. All we need to do is begin. We've done hard things before. We can do this. Let's get going.
Assault weapons ban now. Gun control now.
Barb Guy is a regular contributor to The Tribune opinion pages.