Houston, we have a problem

In the movie Apollo 13, after Tom Hanks has uttered those famous words the guys at Mission Control finally identify the source of the problem. They abort the moon landing and reroute the capsule to get them home. The problem is that they have to make sure they have enough breathable air and part of the spacecraft that kept the air breathable was damaged.

The director of the mission gathers some of NASA’s best and brightest in a room and dumps a box full of assorted stuff on the table. “This is all they’ve got to work with,” he says, “find a way.” They are going to have to duct tape a spacecraft back home.

Houston, we have a problem.

Shootings no longer make news unless the body count is high enough or the target population is new enough. Schoolchildren are gunned down and nothing happens. Moviegoers are gunned down and nothing changes. Kindergartners are murdered by the classroom weeks before Christmas and for the rest of the country life goes on as usual. And now patrons at a club are killed by the dozens. And for the rest of us, life goes on.

Life goes on of course, after the grief and outrage and vigils and prayers and declarations that something must be done.

But it never is.

Meanwhile, toddlers have become one of the most lethal groups in the country. Over and over again they find a gun in a parents’ bedroom or at a friend’s house and someone winds up dead. That child or adult is dead, and that toddler will have to live forever with that knowing.

Something must be done.

But it never is.

Houston, we have a problem.

What we’re doing – or not doing – isn’t working. In my business, we call that the everyday definition of insanity. Doing the same thing and hoping for a different result.

It’s time to do something different.

We have a lot of smart people in this country. I know we do. We have a lot of people who care deeply. I know we do. Can someone not gather in the best of them into a room and say, We have to fix this…

We need to get them in a room: People who know about guns (but not lobbyists.) Police officers who have to deal with such shootings. Experts on the constitution and our legal system, who know what can and cannot be done. Sociologists who understand culture and society. Lawmakers who are not in office and do not plan to run for office who nonetheless know how our legal system works at its best. Can we not round them up and say, “This is what we have to work with – this messy, freedom-loving, deeply divided, deeply hurting country. You have to find a way to bring us home safely.”

Perhaps – and I know I’m just dreaming here – we could study what other countries have done who have successfully reduced the amount of mass shootings. I know –we’re different. We have a different culture and history. But maybe, just maybe we could learn something from someone else in the world.

We need to clear away what we think we know. What we think we know only leads us to more rivers of blood. We need the courage to admit that it isn’t working and the resolve to do something different. Whenever a shooting happens we first cry out that something must be done but the answering echo is always all of the reasons why that something won’t work.

Can we not embrace the problem without assuming that we already know the answer and that answer being defeated before it’s begun?

Houston, we have a problem. And giving the same speech only louder isn’t going to fix it.

I’m tired of vigils.

I’m tired of prayers for survivors.

I’m tired of mass shootings having to be qualified as today’s mass shooting because you see, we have so many.

Houston, we have a problem.