It’s often said that American society has become numb to school shootings. The Columbine High School shootings in 1999 were the focus of national attention for weeks. Since then, there seem to have been so many massacres that there’s little time to process one before another hits the news.
We are not even two months into 2018, and there have been eight school shootings this year alone—the most recent the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida yesterday (Feb. 14), in which a former student killed 17 people and wounded 14 others.
Beneath the cultural numbness lies real pain—felt not only by the victims, families, and friends personally affected by individual school shootings, but among Americans ashamed by the country’s failure to take meaningful steps to protect the lives of children. This combined sense of grief and deep frustration was on full display in an emotional exchange between CNN host Wolf Blitzer and Phil Mudd, a former FBI agent and counterterrorism expert who is a CNN analyst.
The clip begins with Blitzer asking Mudd about his perspective on the Parkland shootings as a former member of the FBI. “You think it’s antiseptic,” Mudd says of the violence. “It’s not.”
To illustrate the horror of the bloodshed, Mudd begins talking about a terrorist sent by ISIS and Al-Qaeda to set off a car bomb, who wound up losing much of his skin, hands, and feet. Then Mudd veers back to the school shooting:
“I have 10 nieces and nephews,” he says. “We’re talking about bump stocks, we’re talking about legislation.” Mudd’s voice starts to shake. “A child of God is dead. Cannot we acknowledge in this country that we cannot accept this?” At this point, he ends the interview, crying, saying he can’t continue. A somber Blitzer says they’ll come back to Mudd, noting, “People say we gotta learn some lessons, unfortunately, lessons are never, never learned.”
It can feel intrusive, even exploitative, to watch an emotional display like Mudd’s on TV. Yet the moment is also a necessary reminder of the toll for Americans in witnessing a seemingly endless series of children’s deaths.
Americans have become numb to school shootings because to feel the full weight of so much suffering would be too much. But even a TV analyst and terrorism expert, whose job means immersing himself in everyday violence, can’t remain stoic forever.