The script is by now tediously formulaic. After each U.S. mass shooting – at least the ones rated newsworthy enough to cover, since there are so many – the initial expressions of grief give way to a circular grudge match defined by cynicism, sanctimony and political point-scoring.
The worst mass shooting on recent U.S. record should merit more than this cursory going-through of the motions. But for all the 24-hour cable news coverage, candlelight vigils, talk-show host outrage and heartfelt pleas from a weary President, it would naive to think that this predictable pattern could be broken in the aftermath of last week's attack on an Orlando gay dance club.
If the slaughter of 20 mostly white six- and seven-year-olds from upper-middle-class families in Newtown, Conn., couldn't break it, what are the odds that the killing of gay Latinos in Orlando can?
Starting this week, competing Democratic and Republican bills (technically amendments to an existing budget bill) are expected to be voted on in the U.S. Senate.
The Democratic bill would empower authorities to deny the sale of guns to those on a terrorism watch list (the Orlando shooter had been on one, but had been taken off before the shooting). The Republican bill would only allow authorities to delay the sale of guns to such people, pending a special hearing.
Passage of either bill would be a welcome, if only baby, step forward. Neither is likely to make it.
That either bill is the best anyone can hope for in the wake of Orlando demonstrates just how deep and intractable the country's gun-control impasse remains. The divide is not a strictly partisan one. In the wake of the 2012 Newtown tragedy, a bipartisan bill that would have expanded background checks on prospective gun buyers was defeated, in part because Democratic senators from Arkansas, Montana, North Dakota and Alaska opposed it.
The all-powerful National Rifle Association, its coffers brimming thanks to a sinister alliance of Second Amendment zealots and gun manufacturers, has wasted no time after Orlando, threatening members of Congress up for re-election in November. Those representing heavily urban or liberal states face no re-election risk in campaigning for stricter gun control. But their exploitation of tragedies such as Orlando actually undermines the prospects for it.
While the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting may seem like a window of opportunity (as unsatisfying a description as that is) to pass major gun-control legislation, it is the worst possible moment to debate the issue. These tragedies mobilize gun-rights activists far more than they outrage ordinary citizens. Even the most well-organized gun-control groups look like amateurs compared with the military-style precision with which gun-rights advocates go to battle.
Beyond the NRA, there is the Crime Prevention Research Centre, which describes itself as "research and education organization dedicated to conducting academic quality research on the relationship between laws regulating the ownership or use of guns, crime and public safety." Its "research" suggests that concealed-carry gun laws, which enable permit holders to pack protection just about anywhere they go, are the most effective measures to prevent mass shootings.
Because the Orlando nightclub in question advertised itself as a "gun-free zone," it was a sitting duck for a sick, lost soul such as Omar Mateen to act out his murderous fantasy, according to CPRC president John Lott Jr., author of the 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime. "According to police and prosecutors, there have been dozens of cases of [concealed-carry] permit holders clearly stopping what would have been mass public shootings," Mr. Lott wrote in the aftermath of Orlando, without naming one. "It's understandable these killers avoid places where they can't kill a large number of people."
This is the logic gun-control advocates must compete against in a country poised to elect Donald Trump as its president.
Before setting out on his 10th trip as President to comfort families affected by a mass shooting, Barack Obama described Orlando as "a further reminder of how easy it is for someone to get their hands on a weapon that lets them shoot people in a school, or in a house of worship, or a movie theatre, or in a nightclub. And we have to decide if that's the kind of country we want to be. And to actively do nothing is a decision as well."
This time, he seemed to understand that decision had already been made.