Some of the results of the 11-month-long investigation into the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were released yesterday. They outlined—in broad strokes, with a few horrific, unexpected, strange details—what happened inside the school and what had been happening inside the Lanza home.
The information that was released brought up questions, some new (should Adam Lanza's mother been more concerned about his behavior? Yes.) and some old (does the media's coverage of such shootings encourage others to commit similar acts via a "contagion effect"? Probably not). And there are, I don't know, however many other issues that you want (or don't want) to think about, most of them probably regarding how everything is fucking terrible. "The obvious question that remains is: Why did the shooter murder 27 people, including 20 children?" the official report says. "Unfortunately that question may never be answered."
But here's what we do know: For a brief time following Sandy Hook, the horrific deaths of so many people—most of them kindergartners—spurred a debate on gun control as urgent and as heated as any we've ever had. For a moment there—from Obama's eulogy, to Biden's stumping, to the NRA trying to arm teachers, to hell, even good old Gun Appreciation Day—people were actually, if clumsily, acknowledging the remarkable symbolic and physical power of America's weapons, not to mention Americans' throbbing, rock-hard love for their weapons.
Then, you know, shit happened. A meteor exploded over Russia. Catholics got a new pope. The Boston Marathon was bombed. Edward Snowden told every person on the planet that the NSA was reading their email. Egypt had a goddamn coup. Obamacare. Typhoon Haiyan. Everybody got real concerned about Syria, but only for a week or so. Because everything else happened, too: Work. Going to the supermarket. Doing laundry. Not getting enough sleep. Breaking Bad. Traffic. Getting sick. Boring, day-to-day shit. And whatever angry, awkward conversation that America was starting to have about gun control got pushed further and further to the margins. Until it disappeared. And here we are, 11 months later, reading about Adam Lanza's love of Dance Dance Revolution.
Once Sandy Hook stopped coming up every day, Americans settled back into their acceptance of gun violence. While the Navy Yard shootings got attention, chances are good that the number of actual shootings in 2013 is far, far higher than you think—it's just that, unlike the Sandy Hook shooting, they're more in line with the kind of shootings we've decided to be cool with. Look at this graphic. Look at how big these numbers are. That's what we're used to.
And we'll stay used to it, because shit happens—big shit, and boring, day-to-day shit—and we'll get distracted. As the memory of Sandy Hook fades, support for gun control has been slipping; after the defeat, last April, of a bill to ban assault weapons and expand background checks, there's been no meaningful follow-up legislation on a national level. The best that gun control advocates seem to be hoping for—despite some dismaying "chilling factors" in places like Colorado and Alaska—is that individual states might, at some point, prove to be more responsible than Washington.
So the talk about Sandy Hook, 11 months on, remains just that: talk, most of it already forgotten, and, for most, not even relevant. Until the next shooting happens—by which I mean not just any American shooting, but one, like Sandy Hook, that will be big and devastating enough to jolt and surprise and horrify even us. And then we'll start this cycle over, because everything's still in place for it to happen all over again.