Do something, Americans cried out from bloodstained streets.
They’re killing us out here, these small men with big guns.
So we left the guns alone and restricted everything else about American life.
We got used to metal detectors and bag searches and mass murder and the gnawing unease that creeps in any time we’re anywhere public, crowded and happy.
We died anyway. Gunned down in the street, at work, in school, at prayer, at a dance, at a concert, at the movies, at the mall. Last week, a man posted his white supremacist manifesto, cut through a security fence, and took aim at the children playing on a bouncy castle at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
We thought maybe the good guys with guns could save us from a bad guys with guns.
But police dropped the Dayton shooter 30 seconds after he opened fire, and that was all the time he needed to spray the street with 41 bullets. He killed nine people in less time than it took to type this paragraph.
Americans slip bullet-resistant panels into their children’s backpacks and send them off to schools with reinforced classroom doors and active-shooter drills. Ask the kids how safe that makes them feel.
“Lockdown. Lockdown. Lock the door,” kindergartners sing to the tune of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.”
“Shut the lights off. Say no more. Go behind the desk and hide. Wait until it’s safe inside.”
We tried doing nothing. It didn’t work.
But when a killer stalked the aisles of an El Paso Walmart, targeting Hispanic shoppers and ignoring everyone else, a man named Chris Grant did something.
Grant started chucking pop bottles at the gunman, distracting him, giving others a chance to escape.
“I did what any good man would’ve done,” Grant told the El Paso Times from his hospital bed. The price of his courage was two bullets to his rib cage.
Saving lives from the comfort of the Minnesota Senate chambers seems like it would involve considerably less risk and effort than facing down a racist with an AK-47.
The Minnesota Senate is where gun safety legislation goes to die. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, marked the back-to-back mass shootings in Ohio and Texas with a weekend tweet, assuring everyone there’s nothing government can do to stop the next mass shooter, so why even try.
If it’s any comfort, he does support harsh penalties for mass murder after the fact.
“Most gun purchases already require background checks. Universal background checks on sales to relatives & friends have not proven to eliminate deranged murderers from killing innocent people,” Gazelka tweeted Sunday. “We will focus on mental health issues, and tougher penalties when thugs use guns.”
Gun safety and mental health assistance aren’t really an either-or proposition. Grant Duwe, director of research at the Minnesota Department of Corrections and the guy who literally wrote the book on mass shootings, found evidence that enhanced background checks and better mental health care can make a difference.
Duwe, author of “Mass Murder in the United States: A History,” studied more than a century of mass killings in this country. Last year was the worst he’d seen. This year, he said, is not shaping up to be an improvement.
“We know it’s going to happen again,” said John Souter, who was gravely wounded in the 2012 mass shooting at Accent Signage in Minneapolis that left six of his colleagues dead.
Survivors and scholars have watched the American cycle of tragedy, outrage and inaction play out again and again. The headlines fade, public attention shifts to the next mass shooting, and families like the Souters are left with their pain and their trauma and their suffocating piles of red tape and medical bills.
So while we’re doing something, if we’re doing something, maybe we can also do something to help all those people we didn’t protect from the small men with the big guns.
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks