After the shock comes the aftershock. A young man massacres schoolchildren, and even as broken parents wait outside the police exclusion zone, politicians start arguing about guns.

How, looking at pictures of murdered children, can your first thought be about public policy? Both sides seem, for once the metaphor is apt, to have their finger on the trigger, waiting to insist either that guns be banned or that teachers be armed.

Both are legitimate points of view, but is the immediate aftermath of an atrocity really the time to express them? Does either side imagine it advances its cause by noisily airing its demands before the bodies have been counted?

Perhaps it is a kind of displacement activity. Our thoughts skim away from what must have happened inside those classrooms. At times of stress, we naturally revert to what makes us feel comfortable, falling back on ideas we already held.

Perhaps, at least in the United States, people have become inured to the horror. People become habituated to even the most gruesome events. At the start of a war, each fatality is a story, but not for long. Even a terrorist campaign, if it lasts long enough, loses its novelty. During the 1970s, political murders in Northern Ireland became so common that they did not always lead the news. Could it be that even the massacre of children, the very definition of evil, eventually becomes part of the background?

All that said, the immediate aftermath of an abomination is surely the worst time to decide policy. Because we are disgusted at what has happened, we tend to want the policy response to be proportionate to our anger rather than responsive to the public need at hand.

That is what happened after the United Kingdom’s only school shooting — the 1996 Dunblane massacre, in which 16 small children and a teacher were murdered. A report looked carefully at what had happened and recommended that handguns be kept at secure sites in registered clubs. Shooting groups accepted the recommendation, as did the government. But with an election coming, Tony Blair, then leader of the opposition, decided to exploit the problem. In the most revolting speech of his career, he accused the Conservatives of not caring about the dead children and promised to ban handguns completely. No one tried to argue that such a ban would have made any difference — the gunman’s weapon had been acquired illegally — but in the atmosphere that then prevailed, no one needed to.

Britain has seen no school shooting in the 26 years since. The monstrosity in Uvalde, by contrast, was the 27th American school shooting this year and, by some definition, the 212th mass shooting.

Guns are not the only variable here. Other factors probably play a part. Part of the problem may simply be the frequency of the attacks. Just as terrorists are peculiarly obsessed with airports, a certain kind of disturbed young man may turn to school shootings simply because the idea is already in his head. If it were not such a cruel topic, we might almost call it a fashion — an attraction to a particular type of copycat crime.

The recent rise in shootings might even be a gruesome side effect of having kept teenagers locked up for two years. Before 2020, we used to tell young people to spend less time on their screens. When the pandemic hit, they had no other option, and some began to peer into the vortex. Consider, for example, the man who had carried out the racist murders in Buffalo, New York, 10 days before the Texas killings. He, too, was 18, and it is worth looking at what he wrote before the crime: “Before I begin I will say that I was not born racist nor grew up to be racist. I simply became racist after I learned the truth. I started browsing 4chan in May 2020 after extreme boredom, remember this was during the outbreak of COVID.”

Whatever the other factors, the availability of guns clearly contributes to America’s grisly uniqueness on school shootings. There are few places where you can buy two assault rifles and at least seven 30-round magazines on your 18th birthday with no waiting period. Even so, the answers are not clear. In Britain, guns are sparse, and shootings are commensurately rare. In the U.S., even if the sale of guns were completely prohibited, there would still be more privately owned weapons in circulation than there are people.

It's all the more reason to take our time and look for answers rather than arguing fitfully in the aftermath of massacres. The dead deserve better than to be waved around as props in angry debates. They have suffered enough.