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In the aftermath of yet another mass shooting, we're finding out, soberly, who we are

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Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Navy Yard shootings are the most recent episode of what has become the new American normal, a danse macabre that takes place in different towns around the country, always unannounced, with startling suddenness and a predictable response from a national audience.

Mass killings no longer shock us as they once did, evoking now a practiced sadness and the mournful resignation that it has happened yet again. All of the players on the national scene know their lines and the media dust off the debating points from the last time for another go-round that will last maybe until the funerals.

Gun safety advocates will call for tighter controls, including background checks. Pro-gun voices will assert that nothing can be done legislatively to help prevent these killings. The National Rifle Association, which has learned to wait until the dust has settled before weighing in, will eventually blame the killings on everything but their own interests.

In less time than it used to take, we will all move on, except for the small group of Americans who are directly affected by this carnage. Their lives will be forever changed — loved ones gone or maimed; futures shattered. The rest of us will be whistling past the graveyard, glad we were spared.

And how could we expect change now if the killings at Sandy Hook School were not enough to shock us into national action? The faces of the 20 grade-schoolers and six adults who were gunned down in Connecticut filled the media during the holidays, breaking hearts and hardening resolve. But that was not enough.

Then, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who received an A rating from the NRA, said, “I think opening up and seeing a massacre like this, of innocent children, it's changed things. It's changed America.” But he was wrong.

Manchin and Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., both good men, co-sponsored a background check bill that was defeated in the Senate. Manchin indicated last week that he has no plans to fight that battle again.

Is it time to accept that this is who we really are, a nation that will never muster the will to even try to solve this problem, a nation willing to settle for a regular ritual of self-flagellation over a tragedy that we do not even try to prevent?

Trauma center director Dr. Janis Orlowski, whose job appears to be quite secure, spoke to the media after treating some of the Navy Yard victims.

“There's something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said. “I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots.”

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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