Hoppy Kercheval, Opinion

Never again … until it happens again

Our country has suffered yet another unspeakable tragedy: 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, armed with two assault rifles, opened fire at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two teachers.

President Biden spoke for much of the nation Tuesday night when he said, “I am sick and tired of it.” Who isn’t? The Washington Post reports there have been 24 acts of gun violence at schools so far this year. More than 300,000 students “have experienced gun violence at school since Columbine,” the school massacre in 1999, according to the Post.

Each shooting, every heartbreaking story of destroyed and traumatized lives and shocked communities produces the collective cry of “never again,” until, inevitably, it happens again.

“Why are we willing to live with this carnage?” the president asked. “Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone? It’s time to turn this pain into action.”

But what action?

We dust off the well-worn answers: More gun control, red flag laws, better mental health services, improved school security, bring God back into the schools, sue the gunmakers.

If you believe stricter gun control is the answer, you are going to be disappointed, at least at the federal level. Congress could not pass even the ever-so-tame Manchin-Toomey bill that marginally expanded background checks.

If you believe better mental health services would help, what does that look like exactly? Where would have been the social services contact point for Salvador Ramos? How would a health services agency have identified that Buffalo supermarket killer Payton Gendron had descended into a sinkhole of hate-filled bigotry on the internet?

The news and the internet are filled with public displays of thoughts and prayers. We’ll assume that all are heartfelt, but after so many tragedies they now have a cut-and-paste quality. Keep one handy for the next horrific assault on the innocent.

At the risk of connecting too many dots, I feel as though these wanton acts of violence are indicative of something larger, a more existential problem that goes beyond the proliferation of guns or mental health issues.

Culturally, we are increasingly outraged and distrustful or disinterested in traditional institutions — government, churches, schools, the media, families — that collectively hold together our communities. That fabric frays a little more with each uncivilized act.

A sense of community and the benefits that come with being part of a group have given way to narcissistic individualism. The rise of the convenient tag of “fake news” means we can create our own truth, one that is not necessarily based on facts or even in reality.

When an angry mob storms the United States Capitol in a violent attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, you know we have crossed the Rubicon.

Confronting our challenges, whether they are deeply societal or less complex matters of legislation, takes courage. Former Soviet dissident and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said, “From ancient times, decline in courage has been considered the beginning of the end.”

Maybe that’s overly pessimistic, but two mass shootings within two weeks that leave 31 people dead, including 19 children, will do that to a person.

Hoppy Kercheval is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.