Are we still the greatest nation if we can’t address mass shootings?

The Observer editorial board

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hugs a woman as he visits with family and victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting Wednesday.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott hugs a woman as he visits with family and victims of the Sutherland Springs shooting Wednesday. AP

Does it make sense to continue calling the United States the greatest nation in the world when we can’t even have a sensible discussion about, let alone solve, one of the most vexing issues facing us?

Things have gotten so bad that after yet another mass shooting – this time ending in the death of 26 people, with 20 others injured – and before the blood dried on the pews of that Texas church, a predictable, mind-numbing debate erupted. There were those who sent out the typical “thoughts and prayers” tweets. There were those who immediately responded that thoughts and prayers are not enough. There were those saying, once again, that it was too soon to talk about policy, though a week earlier they were quick to talk immigration laws when an immigrant who had pledged allegiance to ISIS used a truck as a battering ram in New York, killing eight people.

And there was the inevitable back-and-forth about whether more, or better, gun control measures or more effectively dealing with mental illness was the key to solving a problem no other industrialized nation in the world must contend with. (The U.S. Air Force apparently failed to report the shooter’s past through the proper channels, which allowed him to clear background checks he otherwise would not have.)

It is certainly no mark of greatness to be the worst in the world when it comes to protecting our citizens from gun violence, when more than 30,000 are killed every year through homicides, suicides and accidental shootings. We have more than 300 million guns in the hands of everyday Americans – a rate unmatched anywhere else on Earth – and in the face of yet another mass shooting, the Texas attorney general wondered why we don’t have even more guns in churches, just as a Republican congressman wanted more guns in Congress after a shooting at a congressional softball practice.

Now three of the top five mass shootings in modern America have occurred over the past 18 months. Such shootings have become so common that the Columbine massacre, which shocked the nation in 1999 and led to massive changes in schools, is no longer ranked in the top 10. We were momentarily moved by a Las Vegas shooting that killed 59 people and injured several hundred and spoke, briefly, about limiting access, not to high-powered guns, but kits that could modify them into automatic weapons. We couldn’t even get that done, just as we couldn’t when scores of elementary kids were killed in Sandy Hook and polls showed that 90 percent of the public was in favor of tighter background checks.

A country that can’t keep its residents safe from a plague that doesn’t affect any other industrialized nation – and can’t even commit to trying until the problem is solved – should not be patting itself on the back about its greatness.