They have become a gruesome sign of the times: Shootings that really have no clear motivation — just a gnawing hole of hate in the shooters. Shootings that plant a cancer of insecurity in the public psyche.
The headline at the top of page A7 in Thursday's Times Free Press posed a question none of us really wants to contemplate: "What to do if confronted with a gunman?"
The story, by Sadie Gurman of The Associated Press, was pegged to three public shootings -- all in the past couple of weeks.
On June 5, the week before, a gunman opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, killing one student and wounding two others. As he tried to reload, a student building monitor rushed out of his office, pepper-sprayed the gunman, grabbed the weapon and hid it in his office. The monitor and another student held the gunman down until police arrived. Police say his actions probably saved lives.
On Sunday in Las Vegas, an armed couple shot and killed two police officers at a pizza parlor, then went to a nearby Walmart, waved their guns and announced that they were starting a revolution. A shopper carrying a concealed weapon tried to stop the man, but the shopper was killed by the gunman's wife. Later, in the back of the store, police fatally wounded the gunman, and the wife committed suicide. Police say the shopper died "trying to protect others."
And on Tuesday in Troutdale, Ore., a 15-year-old high school student brought an AR-15-type rifle, a handgun, loaded magazines and a large knife to school. He fatally shot a fellow student and wounded a teacher. The teacher made his way to an office and alerted officials. Police say he most likely prevented additional deaths. The shooter eventually took his own life.
Strangers killing strangers. Just because the shooters are filled with displaced hate.
Scarier still, it has become so commonplace that The Associated Press thinks the public needs a what-to-do story.
"At a time when shootings seem to happen almost daily, The Associated Press asked experts: How should Americans react if someone opens fire at work, at school or at a theater or store?"
Here's the experts' short answer: Run if you can. Hide if you can't run, preferably in a room behind a locked door. Fight back only as a last resort.
Clearly, fighting back is iffy, and carrying your own concealed weapon is no magic bullet. The Las Vegas shopper is dead, and despite his efforts, his own gun didn't protect him or anybody else.
But experts say if you do fight back, make it count: "You want to act with speed and total surprise, and you want to get a fire extinguisher or a pair of scissors or a chair... ," said Bo Mitchell, president of 911 Consulting. And you want to act with aggression. A Department of Homeland Security video adds this advice: Commit to taking the shooter down, no matter what.
What The Associated Press story doesn't ask is why good people don't pitch tents at their lawmakers' front doors to insist they pass sensible gun-buying checks to close permit loopholes, insist they require sensible background checks including a mental health review and insist our laws hold parents criminally liable when their minor children gain access to firearms that the parents should have had secured.
What the story doesn't ask is when are we going to have enough of these senseless public hate shootings to snap us out of our ostrich trance?
That answer is simple.
We've already had far too many shootings. The time for action is now.