Gunfire Erupts at a School. Leaders Offer Prayers. Children Are Buried. Repeat.

From the University of Texas in 1966, to Columbine and now Santa Fe, the images of school shootings across America are almost indistinguishable.

For the latest on the Florida school shooting, read Friday’s live updates.

Once again a nation sends thoughts and prayers, because it has happened once again.

The flak-jacketed police storming an American school in lockdown. The anguished parents pressing against the police cordon, the morning’s hurried goodbyes suddenly precious. The assembled media unfolding camera tripods and chasing the same story angles as if for the first time.

Aerial footage of children filing out of the school, hands above heads in surrender to the tense moment. Then their frantic dash to safety, their young minds yet to process what they have just witnessed.

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Credit...Shannon Hicks/Newtown Bee, via Polaris; Michael Sullivan/The News Review, via Associated Press; Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Then that moment when the local law enforcement official, face blanched by the sorrow of what must be imparted, appears before cameras. On Wednesday, it was Scott Israel, the sheriff of Florida’s Broward County, who stepped forward to announce the toll of a massacre inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School: 17 children and adults dead, another 16 wounded.

The suspect in custody: Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student who was expelled from the school and who unnerved acquaintances with his obsession with violence and guns. After the slaughter, the police said, he dropped his legally purchased rifle — an AR-15 — ran out of the school, and bought a drink at a Subway.

“There are no words,” Sheriff Israel said.

Other than offers of thoughts and prayers. Or “prayers and condolences,” as President Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

Deadly shootings in schools — that is, the killing of children in sanctuaries of learning — have become a distinctly American ritual, the rote responses as familiar as a kindergarten recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Part of the accepted script is the repeated invocation of the place names of Columbine and Sandy Hook. But these massacres deserve to be more than mere reference points, if only to underscore the protracted inaction of Congress to respond — an inaction that, judging by the Capitol Hill partisanship on display Thursday, seems concretized.

For the record: In 1999, two seniors at Columbine High School in Colorado killed 12 students and one teacher in a carefully orchestrated attack. And in 2012, a gunman walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 20 children, none older than 7, and six adults.

The nation was shocked, then doubly shocked. But the emerging American tradition of school shootings has continued.

Even the dark humor in the headline of a satirical story in The Onion, first published in 2014, has since been stripped of any mirth, leaving only a dark, accepted truth: “‘No Way to Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.”

Jason Roeder, the author of that often-recycled headline, underscored the national sameness of these school shootings on Twitter on Wednesday, saying: “When I wrote this headline, I had no idea it would be applied to the high school a mile from my house.”

Last month, in the wake of another school shooting that you may have already forgotten — a 15-year-old boy killing two classmates and wounding 18 other people in Kentucky — a former F.B.I. agent reflected on the lack of shock that she and her colleagues felt over the repetition of these incidents.

“I spent four years dealing with these kinds of events after Sandy Hook,” said the former agent, Katherine W. Schweit, a co-author of a study of 160 active shooting incidents in the United States. “We are not going to be out of business very soon. When I retired in July, I left a whole team still doing this. It’s not shock — it’s sadness.”

This American ritual does not end with a sheriff’s announcement of the number of dead and wounded. Other parts are acted out in an ever-running play whose plot turns on the national paralysis over the Second Amendment.

An organization called Gun Owners of America complains that “another gunman was able to roam freely without any armed teacher or principal opposing him.” Gun control advocates and opponents criticize each other for not allowing the families of victims even one day to grieve. Pundits solemnly pontificate.

Senator Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat whose state experienced the Sandy Hook massacre, once again denounced the inaction by Congress to properly address the “epidemic” of school shootings. “We are responsible for a level of mass atrocity that happens in this country with zero parallel anywhere else,” he said.

The National Rifle Association, the muscular gun rights organization, remains quiet — for a while. But politicians who have accepted its donations emerge, in implicit or explicit support of everyday access to weapons intended for combat.

Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who has benefited from N.R.A. largess over the years, expressed his sadness about another mass shooting in his state — remember the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 that left 49 dead and dozens wounded? — but warned against assuming that gun restrictions would have prevented the tragedy.

And Mr. Trump, whose 2016 campaign enjoyed considerable N.R.A. support, did not appear on camera on Wednesday, choosing to send his condolences to the families of victims via Twitter. Then, on Thursday, the president managed to address the shooting without any reference to guns; instead, he promised to work with others “to help secure our schools, and tackle the difficult issue of mental health” — a now-familiar promise, uttered by many.

In this case, it is left to the young to cut through the deadening sameness. On Wednesday night, a 17-year-old boy in a dark T-shirt named David Hogg — fresh from escaping the massacre at his high school — looked into a CNN camera to address this country’s political leaders.

“We are children,” he said. “You guys are the adults. Work together, come over your politics, and get something done.”

As moving as the young man’s words are, there have been other moving words over the years — other moving moments that seemed destined to break the paralysis somehow, and save lives. The first child’s funeral after Sandy Hook, for example.

But nothing.

Instead, there is Lulu Ramadan, a reporter for The Palm Beach Post who, in her short journalism career, has covered three mass shootings that have left a total of 71 people dead.

This sobering thought struck her Wednesday night, as she was waiting outside a Marriott hotel where parents of students at Stoneman Douglas High were being reunited with their children.

“By now, unfortunately, I think I’m used to it,” Ms. Ramadan said. “It’s more like a routine, and I kind of know what to expect.”

And there is the Rev. Sharon Risher, who was resting on her couch in Charlotte, N.C., when reports about the Florida shooting came across her television. Her heart leapt at the sight of children fleeing a school, and she switched the channel. Her mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the nine black churchgoers shot dead by a white supremacist during a Bible class in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

Ms. Risher said she already knows what will follow.

“People will rally, and they will voice their opinions on social media about how sad it is, and how they’re praying,” she said. “But in the next month or so, it will be gone. And those families, like me, will have to deal with the devastation of our lives while everyone else moves on.”

Governors order flags to fly at half-staff. Funeral services for children are staggered, so as to accommodate a broken community. Schools everywhere announce that counselors stand at the ready. And a nation sends thoughts and prayers.

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