Why San Bernardino Feels So Different From Aurora

In the early hours of a July day in 2012, I turned on the television after reading news of a mass shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado. As my college housemates woke up, we filled up the seats in our living room one by one, eyes all fixed on the screen. The events being described to us were far too similar to something we would plan for ourselves: a night out at the movies. The idea that a person could turn an evening of others relaxing and enjoying a film into a traumatic, horrifying experience was not one that any of us wanted to entertain. But watching the San Bernardino, California shooting unfold on Wednesday felt a whole lot different from learning the details of what took place at the Century 16 theater in Aurora. My reaction was something akin to "Oh, another one."

In the wake of the Aurora shooting, and then the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut several months later, that kind of violence still provoked dread in Americans watching from afar. I would see photos of victims and imagine what it would feel like if I had been in that theater or that school, or if someone I loved had been trapped inside the buildings. Everything about those events seemed unbearable. What's sad now is that I've reached a point where I feel there's no other option but to bear it, because they continue to happen.

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A look at the numbers provides a stupidly simple explanation for my non-reaction to San Bernardino: Shootings like this are happening just about every single day.

We don't see widespread coverage of every single shooting, but I can rattle off the names of a number of deadly incidents that have occurred only in the last six month. The Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood shooting. The Umpqua Community College shooting. The Charleston S.C. church shooting. And they all should have sparked the same kind of reaction in me that Aurora and Newtown did, but the sensation that an event so horrific would catalyze change has been heartbreakingly dulled.

I would never go so far as to say that I didn't care when I read the first breaking news alert on my phone that there was at least one active shooter in that Southern California city on Wednesday. But that it feels like any other day is what nags at me the most. Aurora felt like far from any other day.