Today's news from Roseburg, Oregon was depressingly familiar. That community has joined an unenviable list of places like Columbine and Sandy Hook whose names are now synonyms for mass murder. I'm not going to write about that. I'm here to say a few words about how we've changed, and how we haven't.Back in 1984, in the San Diego suburb of San Ysidro, a gunman walked into the local McDonald's and killed 21 people in cold blood.At the time, I was an hourly manager at a McDonald's franchise about three hours north of there. You probably have no idea how hard the news hit the McDonald's corporate family. At the time, there had never been a killing in a McDonald's. We thought of ourselves as being islands of safety, a place for families to enjoy their Big Macs and French fries. That ended that July.
What you probably also don't know is how McDonald's responded. After an initial, dazed attempt to reopen, people realized that what had happened was such a shock to the system that it was inconceivable to continue on as before. That store was closed, the building razed, and the land given to the community for a park. A replacement was built down the road.
Here we are thirty-one years later, and in some ways not a thing has changed. There's been no significant gun legislation to curb the violence. We're told that we can't ban guns, that changing the law won't do any good, that people will find a way to get a gun no matter what. Funny how these same people usually make exactly the opposite argument about abortion and same-sex marriage.
What has changed is our response as regards the places where these things happen. Nobody would dream of closing Umpqua Community College, or even the individual building. Nobody would dream of closing Columbine High School. Instead, we'll clean up the blood, scrub the sidewalks, replace the carpeting, and move on. Perhaps McDonald's overreacted in 1984, but it was heartfelt and clearly seemed at the time the right thing to do.
But not now. Now, we've normalized the experience and come to think of it as commonplace. And we know it will happen again, soon, and the President will once again go on television and ask us to let our legislators know how we feel. Then, after a few hours or days, the media will move on to the latest Republican attempt to shut down the government or that day's quasi-fascist rabble-rousing from Donald Trump. And we will once again lament that sadly, in what was once the richest and freest country in the world, there is nothing that can be done.