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'The Onion' has republished a grim headline about mass shootings 21 times since 2014

On Wednesday, The Onion's website was plastered with variations of the satirical piece it's republished after more than 20 mass shootings.
Screenshot by NPR
On Wednesday, The Onion's website was plastered with variations of the satirical piece it's republished after more than 20 mass shootings.

There are a couple of inevitable responses to a mass shooting in America: funerals and fundraisers, prayers from politicians and the resurfacing of one particular article from satirical site The Onion.

"'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens" has been republished 21 times in almost exactly eight years.

Its headline has remained the same for every major mass shooting from Isla Vista, Calif., in 2014 to Tuesday's school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The main image, and basic facts about the shooting, are updated every time.

It always quotes a fictional resident of that state lamenting a tragedy they describe as inevitable:

"This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there's nothing anyone can do to stop them," the person says. "It's a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn't anything that was going to keep this individual from snapping and killing a lot of people if that's what they really wanted."

The article, which has no identifiable author, always notes that such feelings are shared "by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world's deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations."

"At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as 'helpless,'" Tuesday's version — like its predecessors — concludes.

The Onion leaned into its message on Wednesday, sharing a Twitter thread listing every version of the piece from over the years. Thousands of people had liked and retweeted it by midday, with many noting the devastating impact of seeing years' worth of recurring tragedies lined up in a row — seemingly underscoring the point of the satire.

It also flooded the homepage of its website with the stories, the same headline appearing over and over but next to different photos: a spa in Atlanta, a Walmart in El Paso, a grocery store in Buffalo.

Jason Roeder, a former writer and editor at The Onion, is credited with creating the original article.

"When I wrote this headline, I had no idea it would be applied to the high school a mile from my house," he tweeted after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018.

Dave Cullen, a journalist who has covered mass shootings for years and wrote the New York Times bestseller Columbine, told NPR in 2015 that the article "resonates because they totally got it."

"I think what [the Onion article's popularity] says is we look for the people who tell us the truth — kind of the emperor's new clothes — who see through the stuff, and don't just print the same old stuff, or do the same old stuff, or do the safe stuff — the people who call us on our s***," he said.

In a 2017 interview with Vice, Marnie Shure, then the managing editor of The Onion's website, counted this article as one of her team's proudest accomplishments.

"By re-running the same commentary it strengthens the original commentary tenfold each time," she said. "I'm proud to work alongside the people who saw the potential in that, and who were able to send out that message and make it resonate. In the wake of these really terrible things, we have this comment that really holds up."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.