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Darryl E. Owens: The horror of wounded empathy — or when mass shootings become humdrum

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

The day before I jetted to Charlotte for a weeklong vacation, unspeakable ugliness ambushed the City Beautiful.

First, it descended upon an Orlando nightspot where more than 300 revelers came on “Latin Night” to live la vida loca.”

Later, it crept into my bedroom.

Early that Sunday at Pulse, too many fathers, mothers, sons and daughters died — now destined to live forever in a purgatory that reduces rich, unique lives to a single grim number: 49. The number of caskets required to bury the victims of America’s newly minted deadliest mass shooting.

Early that morning, I noticed an Orlando Sentinel alert on my iPhone.

“Breaking: Orlando pulse nightclub shooting: about 20 dead in an act of terrorism, police say.”

Twenty dead.

Awful, I thought.

For an instant.

Then, I kept it moving.

Only a new alert around 10:30 a.m. that scaled up to 50 those who died in a hellish hail of AR-15-like hate pricked my sensibilities.

My God.

The horror unleashed at the gay nightclub where my daughter frequently joined her fellow musical theater chums from the University of Central Florida to decompress.

My God.

My anesthetized response.

Neither scenario could I believe.

Having worked as a columnist and editorial writer for The Orlando Sentinel for 25 years, God knows I spilled too much ink over innocent blood spilled in the latest paroxysm of hatred, insanity or terror.

Over San Bernardino where 14 people were gunned down.

Over Umpqua Community College where nine were shot dead.

Over Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where the shooter prayed with the flock before gunning down nine.

Over too many more.

Each time, I poured into each epitaph, primal scream, supplication all my passion, empathy, agony, outrage and hope that THIS time someone would listen.

That this time, outrage would drain the fever swamp where reason agnostics wade and imagine that prying Rambo weapons from their not-yet-cold-dead hands greases some mythical slippery Second Amendment slope.

That this time, would be the last time.

Even after America’s heart broke when 20 babies barely out of Pampers and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, even after a nation gnashed her teeth over solutions, even after we knew this would happen again, we failed to engage real change.

It never has been the last time.

Innocent blood slickens that contested slope.

As troubling for me — my near-shrug at the initial Pulse death toll.

True, the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre set the previous bar with 32 dead.

What’s also true is the prospect that a massacre each time now might need to set a record to stir heartbreak unnerves me.

It signals something is broken. Perhaps in me. Certainly, in a society that refuses to do not anything because nothing we propose will stop EVERY mass shooting. As if preventing one Sandy Hook isn’t worth the effort.

As happens after these all-to-common tragedies, a recent CNN/ORC poll shows rising support for gun control; it’s now at 55 percent — the highest percentage since weeks after Sandy Hook.

Each massacre, like a can of Red Bull, jolts us out of our torpor for a short-lived burst. Then, we listlessly crash back into apathy — the hard work of real change undone.

President Barack Obama, soon after the shooting, challenged us to choose whether a nation that tolerates such tragedies is the kind of “country we want to be.”

For certain, someone who experiences a stale twinge of sadness that blows through the soul as if a brief summer breeze that teases comfort isn’t who I want to be.

Just maybe, Pulse finally will stir a nation resolutely at least to act on curbing access to a weapon no civilian should ever possess, which by itself, is merely a grim stab at trying to reduce the body counts of the massacres to which we’ve grown comfortably numb.

Or not — Monday, the U.S. Senate again failed to pass any of several measures to keep guns out the wrong hands.

What’s it going to take for us to yearn to avert this heartbreak again?

Perhaps another cattle rattle from death’s macabre auctioneer?

Forty-nine … 49 … 49 …

Do I hear 50?

___

Former award-winning Orlando Sentinel columnist Darryl E. Owens now serves as director of communication at Beacon College in Leesburg, the first higher education institution accredited to award bachelor’s degrees exclusively to students with learning disabilities, ADHD and other learning differences. Views expressed are his own.

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