Mass shootings by disturbed gunmen have become so commonplace over the past generation that the response is now a virtual ritual.
The initial shock of news reports is followed by words of anger and comfort by public leaders — followed by almost nothing of substance.
In part because of the politics of gun control, in part because of the deep roots of rage and psychosis that spur the violence, mass shootings have come to be seen as basically impervious to policy remedies.
The plaintive cries in past years that something must be done in the wake of these tragedies have been met with an unspoken but widespread consensus that stretches into both parties: Politically, there is not much that can be done.
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The presumption of inaction is so strong that the responses of politicians are now typically judged mostly through the prism of atmospherics and theater: Were our leaders eloquent? Did they unify the nation — fleetingly — in their unavoidable role as mourner-in-chief? Did their public displays of emotion shed new light on their ability to empathize with their fellow Americans?