Gene Kerrigan: The choice is simple ... gun control or regular massacres
So frequent are these mass killings that the aftermath is like a well-choreographed dance for US citizens
With the practised ease of a well-resourced medical facility, the staff at Danbury hospital, Connecticut, moved into action.
After word came through, it took just 10 minutes to have 80 medics at the ready, four emergency rooms and six operating rooms. Trauma teams were in place when the wounded began to arrive from nearby Newtown, where the latest school gun killing spree had just ended.
Just three wounded patients arrived. When you fire a Glock or a Sig Sauer at a small child, the chances that the victim will survive with a bullet wound are not great.
The spread of the news was wearyingly familiar. Much faster, because of social media – and more inaccurate than usual. No one died except the shooter, said the first reports – and a teacher was shot in the foot. Then, it gradually went up to a dozen deaths, then two dozen, and more.
When the name of Ryan Lanza came out, some social media enthusiasts cheerfully announced a hunt to see who would first find his Facebook page. His photo was found and circulated. Turned out the killer was Adam Lanza, brother of Ryan, and that was the least of the errors trumpeted as breaking news.
Then, as the reporters arrived on the scene, we got the stories that have become routine in such massacres – stories of the teachers trying to hide the kids, the parents running to the school, the shock of the local officials, the president seeking to console, the psychologists and counsellors seeking to heal.
By now, it's become something of a dance, with Americans well used to the choreography. Though the scale of the killing at Newtown, and the age of the victims, has stirred emotions to greater heights, the dance moves are the same.
Liberals raise the issue of the prevalence of guns. The right wing claim there aren't enough guns – if there were more guns in the school at Newtown, they say, someone would have shot the creep.
The truth is, though – Americans need to stop getting emotional about such massacres. Going to a crowded place to stamp out the lives of helpless people is now a routine life option.
The right-wing slogan is that guns don't kill people, people kill people. The fact is, people with guns kill people. People with unbearable stress, people with delusions of superiority – people who in another culture might end up banging their head against a wall in a public place, find it easy to get hold of guns in America.
There are between nine and ten thousand gun deaths in the USA each year – it's remarkably stable, and multiples of the gun deaths in other countries. For many, it's an acceptable price to pay for the liberal right to bear arms.
American gun fetishism is based on an 18th-Century belief, embodied in the Second Amendment, that a well-regulated militia was necessary to protect the people – from outsider invaders, or from a tyrannical government. The USA today has several well-regulated militias – an army, a National Guard, for a start – but individuals demand the right to bear arms, and their political clout is mighty.
A handful of national politicians dare to stand up to the gun nuts of the National Rifle Association – and President Obama has so far not been among that handful. Ergo – what is happening is predictable. Any society has an assortment of disturbed or murderously arrogant individuals – put them alongside easy access to guns, add political cowardice and you get regular shootings.
Some stand out, for whatever reason– Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Batman killings, and now the Newtown massacre – but they are routine. As American as apple pie. Before the Newtown massacre, since last July, 25 Americans died in four mass shootings, plus three of the shooters.
The choice is simple – curtail gun possession, or view the massacres as part of the price of freedom.
And with the country awash with guns, and a fierce affection for the right to lovingly caress them, we know which way that's likely to go.