This image from video provided by the FBI, shows Aaron Alexis in the hallway of Building No. 197 at the Washington Navy Yard on Sept. 16, carrying a Remington 870 shotgun. Alexis, a 34-year-old former Navy reservist and IT contractor, shot and killed 12 people inside a Navy Yard building before being killed in a shootout with police.
There seemed to be a strange sense of business as usual after a gunman went on a rampage Sept. 16, killing 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard.
President Barack Obama weighed in with some perfunctory remarks before transitioning to a condemnation of congressional Republicans. And there were predictable calls for more gun laws. But, with the exception of cries of the victims' grieving families and friends, the nation's response to the latest mass murders was oddly lacking in passion.
Maybe the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the frequency of these mass killings. The Navy Yard bloodbath was just one in a series. After a nation has witnessed mass murders on military bases, a movie theater, even school classrooms, maybe we have become numb to the very idea of random killing of innocent men, women and children in this country.
Another possible explanation is a growing national sense of helplessness. The human instinct in response to such tragedies is to plead for something to be done to stop them from happening again. But the list of possible solutions is a short one.
A call for gun control is the logical response. But even if that were the answer, which is not obvious, it should be clear by now that is not going to happen. And it's not just that the NRA can be counted on to strangle gun-control legislation.
There is a reason why the NRA is so effective: The fact is, Americans by and large support defending their constitutional right to bear arms, especially those Americans who vote and write checks to political candidates.
Another logical response is to call for tighter security, either to keep killers out of public places or to arm those who could shoot the shooter. Taken to its logical conclusion, however, that would have this country looking like a war zone with armed guards at schools, shopping malls and workplaces and bullets flying in every direction at the first hint of a shooting.
Lately there has been more talk of focusing on a mental health solution, since mass murderers typically exhibit signs of mental illness long before they go over the edge. There is much to be learned about what motivates someone to commit suicide while blazing away until the bullets run out. And early intervention by mental health professionals might prevent a troubled individual from becoming a deranged killer. But it's not clear exactly how that would work, at whose expense and by what authority.
These are sorts of conversations prompted by mass shootings. While the answers are not obvious and the pushback from opponents may be paralyzing, these conversations and the search for solutions are essential. They are not just part of a national grieving process. They are a necessary pursuit of change that, we can only hope, might bring an end to the senseless violence in our society.