Early on Friday morning, there was a shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. There are very few details available at this point, but we already know how the story will unfold. Mass shootings, and the reactions that follow, have become disturbingly routine in this country, to the point where it’s possible to tell the story of the aftermath before it happens. (For LIVE updates, see here.)
1) Right now, we’re in the alarm stage; the shooting has just happened, people are scrambling for more information and decrying the cruel, twisted world in which such a thing could happen. TV stations are running live footage of a parking lot in which nothing is happening, just in case there’s a development that will suddenly and inexplicably make a shooting in an elementary school make sense.
Twitter is awash with outrage, as if expressing the fact that we’re upset by such an event will prove that we haven’t been desensitized — will affirm that we don’t live in a world where mass shootings are a regular occurrence, even though we do.
2) Next will be the speculation stage: Media outlets will try to figure out some possible logic to this clearly senseless event — was the shooter out for revenge? Emotionally disturbed? What set him off? If we can find a specific and unique reason that this particular shooting happened, we can tell ourselves that it’s an anomaly; that it could never happen at our kid’s school, at our local movie theater, at our place of work.
There won’t be a satisfactory answer. We’ll all be reminded that really, a mass shooting could happen anywhere, any time.
3) This realization will spark a desperate clamor for prevention. The guns debate: people on one side will hope that maybe this one will be the tragedy that sparks real discussion of gun reform. They will call for it, they will demand it. But they won’t be heard.
People on the other side will remind the world that people don’t kill people; guns kill people — although this year alone we’ve seen an awful lot of people using guns to kill people.
4) Then the sentimentalizing stage, where we try to hold onto our humanity by resisting the inevitable slide of this story into the abyss of news stories past, replaced with the next big thing. Memorial photo slide shows will be compiled of the victims and run on loop, there will be more speculation as to the shooter’s troubled childhood. Parents across the country will call for heightened security at their children’s schools.
5) Then the normalizing stage, wherein we all move on with our lives. We tuck this event away as one more tragic thing we’ve witnessed, if from afar. We pack it away into memory with a shudder, and a wish for things to change. Then we sigh, we shake it off, and we go back to work and celebrity gossip.
6) Until it happens again.