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EDITORIAL: America’s script for mass murder plays out again in a country music bar

Grieving people are led into the Thousand Oaks Teen Center in California on Thursday, where families gathered after a deadly shooting at a bar. | AP Photo / Richard Vogel

We wake up at 5:07 a.m. on Thursday to a news alert on our cellphone:

“Sheriff says 13 are dead including gunman, sheriff’s sergeant after shooting at Southern California bar.”

Here we go again. Let’s watch this sorry script play out.

We await a presidential tweet of empty assurances.


Here it comes, right on time, at 5:38 a.m.:

“I have been fully briefed on the terrible shooting in California. Law Enforcement and First Responders, together with the FBI, are on the scene.”

We await the next obligatory presidential tweet, the one lauding bravery and offering condolences.

Here it is, 13 minutes later:

“Great bravery shown by police. California Highway Patrol was on the scene within 3 minutes, with first officer to enter shot numerous times. That Sheriff’s Sergeant died in the hospital. God bless all of the victims and families of the victims.”

The sergeant, Ron Helus, truly was brave. As we learn later, he was the first officer in the door at the country music bar in Thousand Oaks, California. He didn’t wait. He gave his life for others.

That’s it on the Trump tweets for now. There won’t be more for a while. Not unless the shooter turns out to have been Muslim or Mexican, in which case the president will be all over it.

But what about the flag thing? We can’t forget the flag thing.

Ah, yes, here we go:

“The flag of the United States will be flown at half-staff,” the White House tweets at 8:48 a.m., “to remember the victims of last night’s horrible act of violence.”

Allow us to suggest a small change to the permanent script. Let’s just fly the flag at half-staff all the time now, running it to the top of the pole only on those rare days and weeks when the news is not full of slaughter from guns.

The Thousand Oaks shooting followed the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, in which 11 people were killed; which followed the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas on May 18, in which 10 people were killed; which followed the Parkland, Florida, school shooting on Feb. 14, in which 17 people were killed; which followed the Texas First Baptist Church shooting on Nov. 5, 2017, in which 26 people were killed; which followed the Las Vegas Strip shooting on Oct. 1, 2017, in which 58 people were killed; which followed the Orlando, Florida, nightclub shooting on June 16, 2016, in which 49 people were killed.

And let’s not forget the rolling massacre of gun killings in our city and country every day.

Now come the accounts of the survivors. They resemble the accounts of every survivor after every massacre, which makes them no less horrifying.

Somebody says it “sounded like firecrackers.” Somebody says he “thought it was a joke.” Somebody says it sounded like “pop, pop, pop.” Somebody remembers somebody shouting, “Get down!”

They cry on camera. They are in shock but don’t know it. They will live with the pain all their lives. They are college kids now, but when they are old and gray, a shadow will pass over them as they remember.

Slightly ahead of the standard script, hardly before we’ve had our morning coffee, the killer is identified.

He apparently was not Muslim or Mexican — sorry, Mr. President. He was a Marine veteran who may have suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. That, at least, was the view of a mental health specialist who talked with him in April after police officers were called to a disturbance at his home.

And now, right on time, come the weasels.

They are the Washington legislators — mostly Republicans, but also Democrats — who live in fear of the gun lobby and take its money. Today, as after every mass murder, they put the blame anywhere except where it most belongs — with America’s insane gun culture. The killer, we are told, bought his gun legally, but maybe he should not have been allowed to have a gun at all after he showed serious signs of emotional instability.

“I stand with all Americans in condemning today’s attempted acts of domestic terrorism,” Senate President Mitch McConnell tweets at 8:19 a.m., regurgitating the same useless words he spoke after the shootings in Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, Sante Fe and Pittsburgh.

And this editorial board, right on schedule, must again tell McConnell and his fellow NRA lackeys to take a hike.

You want to stand with “all Americans,” senator? Get real about guns.

Ban the most lethal guns, such as the AR-15 style rifle. Pass a law requiring background checks for all gun purchases. Impose a national waiting period on gun sales. Ban the sale of extended magazines for ammunition, such as the illegally obtained one reportedly used by the Thousand Oaks killer.

Need more ideas, senator? We offered a couple of dozen last summer in an editorial campaign called “31 bullets.” Go to our website,, and shop around. Work with the House, now in the hands of the willing Democrats, and do something.

California has among the strongest gun laws in the nation, as it happens, and among the lowest gun death rates. Our federal laws should follow suit.

This old script will continue to play out for days. McConnell and his crowd will get around to saying they’re going to do something, but they won’t. Some gun lobbyist shill will say it’s “inappropriate” to “politicize” the massacre so quickly, as if the next massacre might not be days away.

People will marvel that something like this could happen in a place that is so “safe,” as if other sites of mass murders — schools, a movie theater, a synagogue, a Baptist church — were not presumed to be safe.

The smartest thing we heard all day, entirely off script, came from a man in London who wondered what in God’s name is wrong with our country.

“If this situation was happening in most other Western countries,” Kostas Giannakakis wrote in the comments section of a New York Times story, “the government would fall in a matter of days and the whole country would shut down from the massive demonstrations demanding the laws to change and better protect the citizens.”

How does this script always end?

We await the next news alert on our phone.

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