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Playing for time: past is prologue

If the enormity of what had just taken place two days prior in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, had touched him, it was not evident. Standing in the White House, reading from a teleprompter, President Donald Trump’s words — delivered in a flat, expressionless tone — were chilling for what they failed to express and what they failed to say.

But then perhaps it doesn’t matter for we, as a nation, know this wrenching geography all too well. It’s all so grievously familiar: the jarring reality of individuals leveled by a gunman holding a weapon of war, randomly inflicting incomprehensible killing wounds to the innocent. Regarding those who survive, they will likely never recover from the extensive trauma that is both physical and mental.

Consider what a high-velocity round from an AK-47 (El Paso) or an AR-15 (Dayton) can do to the human body. The bullet leaves the weapon with so much energy it disintegrates bone.

“If it hits the liver,” according to trauma surgeon Donald Jenkins, at the University of Texas Health Science Center, “it looks like a Jello mold dropped on the floor.”

The exit wound is a jagged hole, the size of an orange. As well, when an AR-15 (the weapon of choice for most mass shootings) round passes through the human body, it causes cavitation, a ripple effect that can burst a femoral artery even when it misses.

Mass shootings (at least four or more killed or injured) have a long and dark history in our nation. The abyss of tragedy is beyond imagination, outside our assumptions of who we are as a people. Yet, as of this writing, in 2019, 9,239 Americans have been killed and 18,415 injured in incidents of gun violence. To use the word epidemic is not hyperbole and involvement of the CDC would be more than appropriate. How can transformative legislation not be the result?

For all of the carnage visited in our nation with a metronomic regularity, my wrenching moment will always be the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Connecticut. It stands apart as much for what happened — a solitary, demented shooter armed with an AR-15 Bushmaster entered the school and in less than five minutes fired 156 shots killing six adult staff and 20 children, ages 6 and 7 — as for what failed to happen in the days and months that followed.

Try and imagine the dreadful damage that weapon inflicted on those small children. Try and imagine the scene found by the first responders. And then try and imagine the deep and abiding grief felt by the parents and families for the loss of those small ones who were taken from them with such awful finality.

Though President Barack Obama, his voice breaking, pushing back a tear, appealed for change regarding gun control, for any response by the Republican controlled Congress that would reflect the depth of this tragedy, the answer was a harrowing silence. And then finally, in 2013, a bill to ban assault weapons was, indeed, offered along with a background check amendment attached. It was defeated in the Senate. I have often asked, if not Sandy Hook, then what? If not Sandy Hook, then when?

In his White House speech, Trump insisted that the fault rested with video games and mental illness and it was “hatred (that) pulled the trigger, not the gun.” Of course, guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people, a lame parroting of a standard NRA rationale.

In my opinion, background checks and red flag tagging are only a beginning. I’m assuming that both the Dayton and El Paso shooters would not have been red flagged and would have passed background checks and so acquired their rifles. What kills is a weapon of war with a clip of 30 (Sandy Hook) or more (in Dayton it was 100). An assault rifle ban is beyond common sense. To do any less is playing for time. Past is prologue.

Chris Honoré