In a 24-hour period last week, in towns almost 5,000 miles apart, two shooting rampages left 27 people dead. In Geneva County, Ala., a man shot five members of his own family and five strangers before committing suicide. In Winnenden, Germany, a young man killed 12 people at his former high school and three others before committing suicide.

Mass shootings are a bit like airplane crashes. They happen infrequently, but when they do, it’s big news. The difference, I suppose, is that planes aren’t inherently dangerous and can’t fit in a school bag, a jacket pocket or glove compartment. And it’s a heck of a lot easier for most people in this country to get a gun than get on a plane. In fact, the differences between planes and guns as instruments of destruction define a very American perspective of safety and security.

When we are honest with ourselves and admit that the reaction, daresay overreaction, to 9/11 has fundamentally altered, and not for the better, the lives of every citizen in these United States and in much of the world, let’s also admit the improbability of commercial jets being piloted into tall buildings and the unfathomably disastrous series of events that led to the complete structural collapse of both towers of the World Trade Center.

Even Osama bin Laden was surprised by the efficacy of the attacks: “I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only,” he said in an audio tape released months later. “This is all that we had hoped for.”

Now, almost eight years after just such an unlikely aviation attack overwhelmed the emotional and logical capacities of this nation, we accept invasive body and bag searches and condone racial profiling and harsh intakes of breath when anyone vaguely “Middle Eastern” sits across the aisle.

But what of Columbine, or Virginia Tech? They are encompassing words connoting events heavy with violence but forgotten in matters of policy and change. To address mass shootings and gun violence, where are the sweeping new regulations governing significant aspects of our lives, where is the outrage that catalyzes a rapid and comprehensive, if imperfect response?

We have been and will always be a country equally motivated by fear and courage, ardently supporting the status quo until something scares us enough to act boldly. In 2005, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and the State Department, Americans were 553 times more likely to die from a gun than terrorism.

But once again, in the sad weeks that follow these two recent tragedies, we will show our true double standard as a people so ready to believe in the War on Terror as a monolithic, global menace to be “solved,” but quick to dismiss gun violence as a tragic, unforeseen and unavoidable happenstance, best dealt with on a nation-by-nation or state-by-state basis.

There are those who will say that these two shootings prove that gun control doesn’t work – that unbalanced people all over the world will hurt others regardless of the circumstance or law. They will perhaps go further, saying this is why we need to license more guns in schools and communities to act as deterrents to armed marauders while laying blame for these massacres squarely on these individuals or on amorphous entities like the “mental health system,” “society” or “family life” without a second thought of the basic fact that no one has ever mass-strangled 16 people.

While we bet the future of our democracy on a broad strategy to remove the tools that terrorists would use to strike – we preemptively attack a nation to secure “weapons of mass destruction,” freeze the financial assets of purported terrorists around the world, keep liquids and nail clippers out of airplane cabins – we still stubbornly refuse to address, let alone limit, the tools of mass shootings. It is impossible to underestimate the sanity of a country where it is oftentimes more difficult, more inconvenient and more expensive to board a plane than to buy a gun.