Secretary of Defense /

Secretary of Defense /

From the New York Times report on President Obama’s speech at the memorial service for the 12 victims of last week’s mass shooting at Washington’s Navy Yard:

The question is not, he said, “whether as Americans we care in moments of tragedy. Clearly we care. Our hearts are broken again. The question is do we care enough?”

“It ought to be a shock to all of us, as a nation and a people,” he said. “It ought to obsess us. It ought to lead to some sort of transformation.”

I’ll admit it: after absorbing the facts about Aaron Alexis—he passed two background checks and legally purchased a gun; his job as a military contractor had furnished him with secret-level clearance to enter the Southeast D.C. installation—I did feel something like a sense of resignation: While the red flags look obvious in hindsight, this one would’ve been hard to prevent.

Yet this is not to say that I, or anyone else who reacted as I did to this terrible tragedy, am “resigned” to gun violence in general. It strikes me as curious that President Obama would lament a lack of hysteria over violent crime. (And despite the shocking nature and national trauma of mass shootings, they are a subspecies of violent crime.) This is a man whose party suffered nationally for years due to law-and-order Republican politicking. Concern over violent crime, the stoking of fear of violent crime, used to be a big winner for the GOP—that is, until crime rates did this crazy thing throughout the ’90s and steadily declined.

In fact, they’re still declining—despite the economic downturn of recent years. Gun violence, in particular, is down sharply since 1993. Indeed, the Washington Post reports: “Before last Monday’s mass killing at the Washington Navy Yard, the District’s homicide count was about on pace with 2012, a year that ended with 88 slayings, the fewest in a half-century.”

Could more have been done, institutionally, to prevent the Navy Yard massacre? Absolutely. I’m open to establishing a universal federal background check in the fashion described here. But it would be an odd thing indeed if Americans were in a panic over a threat that is, empirically speaking, gradually subsiding.

That’s not “creeping resignation.”

It’s realism.