I’ve held a dying child in my arms. I can tell you, as will others who have done it — in war, in a hospital, after a tragic accident or a random shooting — that the only thing you think about is saving the child’s life. You would go anywhere. Do anything. Give up everything just to change the fates.
I did not want to write about the Florida school shooting today. I looked for any other topic. I even hoped that some huge news would happen Friday, so I could justify writing about that instead.
It seems so pointless. Another column about another mass shooting where children went to school in the morning and didn’t come home in the afternoon? To what end?
Seventeen dead isn’t going to change anything. Not if 27 dead in Sandy Hook didn’t change anything. Not if 32 dead at Virginia Tech didn’t change anything.
Numbers don’t move us to action. Scale doesn’t move us to action. One of these school shootings will break the 100 mark in deaths, and it won’t move us to action.
For all our “thoughts and prayers” — now a tired and almost trite expression — we haven’t done a thing. So why write a column about it? And you cynics who are already typing “Exactly!” — stop acting so smug. You haven’t done a thing either.
Why don’t we do anything?
Perhaps the only useful thoughts are those that ponder why we don’t do anything, despite this constant murder of our kids. Here’s my take:
We don’t do anything because we aren’t willing to lose an argument. Our personal agenda, whatever it is, is paramount. A column in this newspaper last week gave the explosive suggestion that if school shooters were black instead of white, more action would be taken. Certain the response would be furious, I looked at the comments after the piece: The first dozen or so were all about whether the AR15 rifle used in the shootings is really a military weapon or a civilian one. Honestly?
We don’t do anything because of money. Gun rights groups give millions to lawmakers and tens of millions to lobbyists. Gun control groups do the same (in smaller numbers). Do you honestly think if there wasn’t a penny spent by either side (or, even better, if lawmakers took the vote anonymously) that our gun laws would be what they are now?
But conscience empties when a wallet fills. And the line between who gets money and who votes which way is often, sadly, as straight as a bullet.
We don’t do anything because violence is in our upbringing. While we wring our hands over the NRA, the most popular video game in America is “Call Of Duty,” the first-person shooter series. It has sold hundreds of millions of units worldwide and earned billions for its makers. You’d be hard-pressed to find high school kids who don’t know it and young men who haven’t played it. You can pick your weapon, pick your attachments, choose between assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns.
This is a game. A pastime. Why then are we surprised when our kids seems so comfortable with guns and killing?
Ink on a page, blood on the floor
We don’t do anything because we don’t take mental health seriously. We shun those who are different. We write them off as weird. We don’t do early prevention. We rarely identify at-risk. We do precious little to keep them away from weapons (see earlier paragraph). And we shrug and call them “sick” after they’ve murdered.
We don’t do anything because we can’t agree on defense versus prevention. Arming teachers is viewed as giving in to gun nuts. Putting police everywhere means our schools are military zones. We are too big a country to guard every entrance. And we get angry at an agency like the FBI for missing a possible clue, when in truth, you’d need an agent assigned 24 hours a day to prevent the actions of a potential killer.
We don’t do anything because we care more about crushing the ideas of our opposition, so we turn tragedy into identity politics, political finger-pointing, left versus right.
And most of all, we don’t do anything because these are not our children. And we’ve become a myopic, selfie-taking, what-about-me society that is really only moved if something directly affects our household.
This doesn’t have to be true. I know people who, when a natural disaster strikes, jump on airplanes to go and help, without even knowing what they’ll do. “I felt I had to do something,” they’ll say.
That is the feeling you have when a child is dying in your arms. That is the feeling certain families in Florida have now. The ones you see weeping. The ones who decry that among the 27 highest income nations on Earth, according to the latest data collected by the World Health Organization, more than 90% of kids killed by bullets are American.
They’re the ones who are ready to act.
The rest of us just watch. And until we go from watching to doing, I am the first to say columns like this are just ink on a page against blood on the floor.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.