Daily Herald opinion: Can we not address at least some of the issues behind a growing roll call of horror?
"Find the cost of freedom buried in the ground. Mother Earth will swallow you. Lay your body down."
-- Stephen Stills
When it comes to the lives of innocents left open to slaughter, we have long known the cost of freedom.
Say their names.
Hubbard Woods Elementary School, Winnetka, Illinois, May 1988. One eight-year-old boy killed, five students wounded. The shooter takes her own life.
For a time, the killer's name would become synonymous with the coldness of a dispassionate murderer who claimed she had acted because she was bored. She had a long history of mental health issues, and became world famous for an act so despicable no one thought it would be repeated. We do not identify her now, nor the many who have sadly extended her cruel legacy. There are some names we must not say.
And some we must.
Columbine High School, Littleton, Colorado, April 1999. Twelve students and one teacher killed. The two shooters killed themselves.
Columbine was a kind of wake-up call but far from the beginning of our long national nightmare of indiscriminate mass murder. By the time of Columbine, "going postal" had already become a grim shorthand, so common it even had assumed a cliché of dark humor.
No one is laughing anymore.
Say their names.
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, April 2007. Thirty-two people killed by a 23-year-old gunman. More than two dozen wounded. The gunman died at his own hand.
As in so many of these cases, the Virginia Tech shooter -- armed with two handguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition -- was later found to have mental health problems. He had produced raving, violent class assignments that disturbed classmates and teachers. No one suspected he would go these lengths. No one was surprised when he did.
Say their names.
Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newton, Connecticut, December 2012. Twenty first-graders and six school personnel killed. The gunman dies at his own hand.
A report filed two years after the massacre profiled the killer as a person with few friends, a long history of family problems, mental instability and anti-social tendencies. The report took pains to distance its observations from the issue of gun control but adds this significant point. "The conclusion cannot be avoided that access to guns is relevant to an examination of ways to improve the public health. Access to assault weapons with high capacity magazines did play a major role in this and other mass shootings in recent history."
Say their names.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida. February 2018. Fourteen students and three school personnel killed. Seventeen others wounded. A 20-year-old suspect was captured and charged.
The gunman rode an Uber to the school lugging a backpack filled with ammunition and a black duffel containing an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. A staff member saw him and was suspicious before the rampage, but failed to issue an alert. The killer and his brother had been orphaned by the deaths of their adoptive parents. His brother would eventually see him acting out scenes of violence and find violent messages on his cellphone. Later, the brother would ask the killer, "Why did you do this? This is not you."
At one time, Parkland had been considered the safest city in Florida.
Now, there are so many more names to say ... Red Lake High School, Minnesota, 2005; Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois, 2008; Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon, 2015; Pulse nightclub, Orlando, Florida, 2016; Century 16 movie theater, Aurora, Colorado, 2012; Las Vegas, Nevada, 2017; Texas First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas, 2017; Santa Fe High School near Houston, Texas, 2018; Henry Pratt Co., Aurora, Illinois, 2019; Tops supermarket, Buffalo, New York, May 2022 ... and on and on and on and on and on and on and on.
Until now, Robb Elementary School, Uvalde, Texas.
An 18-year-old killed 21 people, 19 of them schoolchildren, with weapons and ammunition he bought legally on his 18th birthday. And why not? He was now in the eyes of Texas law an adult. And a free adult in the United States of America, the world's beacon of freedom. Tomorrow night, the National Rifle Association will celebrate that freedom to the ring of speeches by a Texas senator and a former United States president.
Attendees will not be allowed to bring weapons to the gathering. Perhaps they will carry some thoughts and prayers.
And the rest of us are left to mourn and rehash all the arguments that have worn tiresome and hoarse since the time an angry gunman shot up a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro, California, in 1984, killing 22 and wounding 19, and through all those once-shocking postal killings.
What are the subjects of those "debates?"
• That the Second Amendment gives every American the right to own any weapon, no matter its purpose or deadly potential.
• That it is easier in some places to buy a weapon that can murder dozens of people in a matter of minutes than to buy a beer, adopt a dog, play Lawn Darts, drive a car, buy antihistamines at the drugstore or any of countless activities regulated in the interest of public health.
• That we need more resources for mental health care to identify and help people who are extremely ill.
• That our justice system needs to do more to put weapons scofflaws away.
• That we need identification cards and background checks and waiting periods before letting people own weapons.
• That we should do more to respond to "warning signs."
• That our news and entertainment media glorify violence.
• That social media amplify and normalize messages of hate and division.
• That our national dialogue has become coarse and hateful, our unity fractured.
Yes, it's a wild, wearying cacophony. We have practically worn the various arguments threadbare. No, we cannot do it all at once. But can we not do some of it sometime?
Are we so consumed by our love of freedom that we have no recourse but to be held captive by fear?
Again, we have seen the grisly cost of freedom up close in the gleaming smiles of grade school pictures and the tortured anguish of parents' faces.
It indeed is again buried in the ground.
Let's at least keep saying the names and working toward some hope, some slim strand of faith, that a day will come when we will have no new names to say.