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The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton 13 hours apart this past weekend have pierced the consciousness of a nation that has become desensitized by the relentless reoccurrence of these once-rare tragedies.

The shooting Saturday morning at the Walmart in El Paso immediately riveted the nation, not only for the sheer number of fatalities—22 at the most recent count—but especially for the suspected gunman’s reported intention to target Hispanics, which he proceeded to do, sparing whites and blacks during his spree.

As Americans were still reeling from El Paso, in came word of another mass shooting early Sunday morning halfway across the nation in Dayton. No apparent racial component to this one, carried out in a popular downtown neighborhood: just a run-of-the-mill slaughter of nine people, including the slain gunman’s sister.

The one-two punch once again has moved mass shootings to the front burner of America’s consciousness.

They’ve been on that burner before—especially after the horrific shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012, the Pulse nightclub in Florida in 2016, the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Nevada in 2017, and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018.

Each time, people would say, “This is the one. This is the one that will really change things”—only to see the outrage collide with a wall of inaction, and then simply ebb away.

The El Paso shooting, however, seems to have an ingredient even more potent than the little boys and girls gunned down at Sandy Hook: a racist targeting of Hispanics, more than a little in sync with an American president whose rhetorical attacks on immigrants coming across the southern border have been centerpieces both of his successful election campaign and his administration.

The Washington Post reported Sunday that “investigators delving into the background of the suspect have found a manifesto online, thought to be posted by the suspect, railing against the threat of a “Hispanic invasion.”

President Trump, the Post stated, has often spoken of an “invasion” at the southern border by migrant arrivals.

“Trump’s opponents say his inflammatory rhetoric about immigrants and people of color has stoked divisions in the country and can incite violence,” the newspaper reported.

In a 10-minute statement on Monday, the president, speaking from a teleprompter—not his preferred means of address—said that “our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated.”

What is instructive is what the president did not say. He did not identify Hispanics as the key target in the El Paso shooting. Nor did he support specific gun control legislation in Congress, although he did support so-called “red flag” laws, under which firearms could be taken from those who pose a grave risk to public safety.

What also is instructive is how the president sounded. As usual when reading from a script, he sounded wooden. But on Monday, he also sounded scared.

What Mr. Trump seemed belatedly to have realized is that his incitements against brown-skinned immigrants, captured on volumes of videotape, could now be coming home to roost, and not in a good way, for his personal reelection prospects. True emotional empathy, though, remained too much to ask.

Mr. Trump and the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, also have effectively stymied the passage of most federal gun-control legislation, even though a substantial majority of the country supports sensible gun control, including universal background checks and a renewed ban on civilian possession of assault weapons.

Senator McConnell has stopped even bipartisan proposals from going to a vote on the floor. President Trump, meanwhile, is loath to cross the official wishes of the National Rifle Association.

The sad truth, however, is that while better gun control likely would cut down on the number of mass shootings in the United States, and the number of people killed or wounded in those shootings, it wouldn’t stop them.

Opponents of gun control long have held that “guns don’t kill people—people kill people.”

At a very basic level, that’s true.

A gun is a tool, something that can be used for good or evil.

At this writing, there are likely more than 1,000 guns residing in homes across Cape Cod. They are legally owned. They are used for hunting or self-protection. They are not used in crimes, let alone mass shootings.

What’s more, that’s been the situation for decades, both on the Cape and across the nation.

What has changed is the increased willingness of more individuals to engage in mass shootings, and an increase in the deadliness of those shootings. Assault weapons, used increasingly often, provide a sure way of pushing body counts higher.

A graphic presentation this week on the Washington Post website illustrates the chilling trend.

Since the 1965 shooting at the University of Texas at Austin, the Post reports, the number of mass shootings has increased dramatically, with many of the most deadly shootings occurring in recent years.

More and more mindsets have shifted. The mass shooting, the kind of atrocity once not even contemplated, has become more and more of an option.

Current American culture—with its penchant for grievance and violence—needs to change. Individuals must feel in their bones that no matter how angry, how upset they are, there are certain lines they will not cross.

People kill people. They can choose not to.

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