We live in an age when there is a question that hangs over many things, occasionally haunting us, sometimes mocking us, always challenging us. That question is, when is enough, enough? As questions go, it’s not very spiritual, though it is personal and it reveals a lot about us, both individually and collectively.
When it comes to gun violence, about 10 years ago I thought we had the makings of an answer. Coming off the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where a deranged soul killed 26 people, 20 of whom were first graders, I thought that that would be the moment when we would have had enough. I was wrong.
When it comes to mass shootings and gun violence and having the political will to enact common sense gun laws like background checks and red flag laws, I had to remind myself that if 20 first graders massacred wasn’t enough to move the needle back in 2012, then the recent massacre in which 19 fourth graders in Uvalde, Texas lost their lives wasn’t going to get us to “enough.”
While disheartened to realize that the massacre of innocent school children wasn’t and isn’t sufficient to get us to that moment, I set my sights on size and quantity, figuring that if the body count were high enough in a single act of madness, surely such an incident would get us to a moment where we said “enough is enough.” I was wrong again.
I found out how wrong I was in 2017 when another damaged soul decided to perch himself 32 floors up in a Las Vegas hotel window opening fire on 20,000 people attending a music festival in a nearby parking lot. When the shooting stopped, 60 were dead and upwards of 800 were wounded. Despite the body count, it didn’t get us to our “enough is enough” moment.
So maybe the only thing left to stir us to action on gun reforms will be the sheer volume of mass shootings and perhaps the frequency. No sooner did we digest the news of a mass shooting in a grocery store in Buffalo, New York than the news broke about the mass shooting in Uvalde, and while we were absorbing the news out of Uvalde, we were confronted with news of a mass shooting at a medical clinic in Tulsa.
This challenge in getting us to our “enough is enough” moment is by no means confined to gun violence. Consider our inability or unwillingness to enact and enforce meaningful measures to address climate change/global warming, which has its own body count. An example is the heat wave that hit Washington State and British Columbia last year that resulted in 1,037 dead Americans and Canadians when temperatures soared to 110 degrees and higher.
Deaths from heat waves caused by climate change are not as sensational as mass shootings, but they’re impactful just the same. When you stack up the frequency and severity of hurricanes and tornadoes, catastrophic floods, and year-round wildfires, you might think we could arrive at our “enough is enough” moment, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
I can’t help but think that somewhere along the way, while embracing the politics of anger and grievance, we’ve sacrificed our capacity to be shocked and humbled by events. More than that, reaching our “enough is enough” threshold as Americans has become that much harder and I fear we’re paying an unbelievably heavy price in the form of pain, suffering, and fear.