Column: Horror is becoming routine

Will last week's mass killing at an Oregon college be the one that forces Americans to demand change? Sadly, not likely.

On April 20, 1999, I worked out at the gym.

I can’t recall where I’ve set my keys half the time, but I remember that.

I have a clear image in my mind of being on a treadmill, staring at a TV mounted high on the wall, as reports of the carnage at Columbine High School, where a pair of shooters had just massacred 13 people, played out.

We talked about it at length for days; we dissected it.

What on Earth had provoked this? Who were these two and how could this have happened?

By contrast, I have no idea where I was in December 2012, when news broke that 20 first graders had been killed inside an elementary school at Sandy Hook, though the event itself stands out. As does the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

We remember both, by name at least, perhaps because of the sheer number of victims — 32 at Virginia Tech — and, in the case of Sandy Hook, the fact that the vast majority of them were six-year-olds.

Canadians still mourn the 1989 deaths of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique at candlelight vigils each December, because that national tragedy belongs to us. And because we haven’t, as a nation, had to contend with literally dozens of mass shootings in the years since.

What does it say about a society (ours included) when a mass killing has to be so horrific in order to be widely remembered even six months later?

Not long ago, London’s Telegraph newspaper put together a list of the “most notable” mass killings  in the U.S. since Columbine.

In all, they tallied up 298 people murdered in 34 “notable” attacks.

Make that 35.

And you can add another nine names to that list.

The collective ringing of hands and gnashing of teeth has resumed following last week’s shootings in Roseburg, Ore., along with the traditional agonizing over what is to be done to make sure it never happens again.

But in another six months, I can all but guarantee that the nine killings that took place on Oct. 1 will be relegated to the same dusty corner of our brains as most of the rest.

We’ve heard yet another impassioned speech from the American president who acknowledges his is “the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months,” and notes that “somehow, this has become routine.”

So, will this be the one that finally leads to some meaningful action in a nation that seems to love its guns more than it loves its children?

Probably not.

Yes, it’s a gross oversimplification of a somewhat complex issue. And yes, the shooter was reportedly “angry and depressed.”

There’s no question that someone capable of murdering innocent strangers, en masse, is dealing with serious mental health issues — issues that need to be addressed.

But mental illness isn’t unique to the U.S. An obsessive love of guns, on the other hand, is — and it’s an obsession reinforced by a very powerful lobby.

Gun control is a political hot potato that anyone trying to get elected in the U.S. is unlikely to be willing to handle. So maybe it’s time to acknowledge that gun violence is an issue that is too important to be left up to politicians.

Will these nine senseless deaths be the ones that finally spur the hundreds of millions of Americans who aren’t running for office to demand change, and to keep on demanding it until it finally comes?

It would be nice to think so.

More likely, once this story has run its course on nightly newscasts and society’s collective outrage has faded from Twitter and Facebook feeds, it will be time once again to sit back and tune in to  Dancing with the Stars.

That is, until yet another newscaster interrupts regular programming — this time, to announce number 36.

Sadly, experience has taught us that we won’t have to wait too long.