With the news that Sikhs had been massacred at a temple in suburban Milwaukee came the familiar feeling: We are enduring the same nightmare again. We are unable to stop the cycle. And with each rendition we feel a bit less horror. We feel a bit less anything.
We risk becoming numb to the mass murder of innocents. The details crowd together and we forget the specifics of each tragedy. But to allow ourselves to be blase toward these outbursts means we cheapen the dead and accept the unacceptable.
A little more than two weeks after the horrific shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., came this massacre of Sikhs. A white supremacist with a military background and a semi-automatic handgun, Wade Michael Page, 40, killed six and wounded three before he was shot dead by police. That was on Sunday, soon after it emerged that the gunman in the 2011 killing of six in Tucson, Ariz. -- and the dire wounding of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords -- was expected to plead guilty.
Just how many mass murders ago was Columbine? How many of us remember Kyle Huff, who killed six in Seattle in 2006 before killing himself? Or the killing of five Amish school girls that same year by Charles Roberts, who also took his own life? Can anyone, without prompting, remember all the carnage that's come since?
These Wisconsin killings are especially troubling because it appears the victims were targeted for their religion or ethnicity. Page was a white supremacist who expressed his views through music he performed with bands. He appears to have been driven by hatred rather than insanity, which makes his killings seem colder and more fearful.
The FBI considers this "a possible domestic terrorism case." It's also part of a grotesque pattern that's become too familiar. It's not unique to our society -- witness the murder of 91 innocents by an armed killer in Norway less than a year ago -- but we have more than our share of mass shootings.
Maddeningly, the slaughter of strangers by disaffected young men is persistent in our culture while the rate of more traditional homicide -- the kind inspired by passion or money or drugs -- has fallen roughly by half since 1991. Even as society has grown safer from violence, new sets of shootings momentarily leap out at us from the news. Yet, each one seems to quickly fade.
Each new tragedy must amplify, not dull, our outrage. The fear and hatred of the ethnic, religious or racial "other" must be overcome, fought around the dinner table, and from the pulpit and in the classroom, until enmity is replaced with understanding. And we must keep an eye out for the disenfranchised loners who may decide murder in a crowd is the only thing left for them to succeed at.
This is about more than our gun culture; it is about addressing underlying hatred and fears. Even in this cynical and petty election season, surely Barack Obama and Mitt Romney can show the leadership to address this scourge of mass violence.
Attention to this epidemic won't end it, but it will do more than averting our hearts, eyes and minds. Numbness, though comforting, is not a legitimate option.