Stephen Colbert is exasperated with America's unwillingness to do anything about its unique gun problem.
Breaking the comedic tone on his show on Friday, Colbert echoed what's now a common theme in the discussion about guns: Why doesn't anything change?
Commenting specifically on the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, Colbert said:
In the face of the killings in Oregon yesterday, I honestly don't know what to do or say — other than that our hearts are broken for the people struck by this senseless tragedy. And I don't know how to start a show like this, which is often about whatever happened in the last 24 hours. I can't pretend that it didn't happen. I also can't pretend to know what to do to prevent what happened yesterday all the times it has happened before.
But I think pretending is part of the problem. These things happen over and over again, and we are naturally horrified and shocked when we hear about them. But then we change nothing, and we pretend that it won't happen again. Some say the answer is stricter gun laws. Others say the answer is mental health care — that we need better treatment or just keep the guns out of the hands of the insane. Maybe it's both. I honestly don't know. But I do know that one of the definitions of insanity is changing nothing and then pretending that something will change.
This is something the satirical news website the Onion captured quite well in a post — which it runs again and again after mass shootings — called "'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens":
"This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there's nothing anyone can do to stop them," said North Carolina resident Samuel Wipper, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world's deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. "It's a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn't anything that was going to keep this guy from snapping and killing a lot of people if that's what he really wanted."
The truth is that there is something America can do about gun violence. The empirical research shows that reducing the number of guns — by reducing access to them, or by immediately cutting the supply of them through, for example, buyback programs — would lead to fewer gun deaths. "Within the United States, a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide," David Hemenway, director of the Harvard School of Public Health's Injury Control Research Center, wrote in Private Guns, Public Health.
Whether it would prevent specific mass shootings is always a matter of debate, but the point is it would reduce gun violence overall.
But for complicated political and cultural reasons, including the power of groups like the National Rifle Association and passionate opposition to gun control among gun owners, nothing really changes, particularly at the federal level. So we keep going with what Colbert characterizes as insanity — a country where nothing changes while we pretend, inexplicably, that these tragedies will stop happening.