“And so the dreadful massacre
O’er fields and orchards, and
o’er woodland crests,
The ceaseless fusillade of
—H. Longfellow, “The Birds of Killingworth.”
We are now somehow inexperienced in keeping our focus — unpracticed in holding our nation’s attention on the enduring and seemingly endless battle against the plague of domestic and stochastic outbreaks of firearms violence.
It is a violence that we might stop if we truly had the will and courage to end it; but like so many other problems in our evermore anomic American public square, no one is clearly prepared to be responsible for the tragedies-to-come.
It is a kind of tragedy of the commons. But unlike other failures in our social order, the repeat tragedy of gun violence is both an undeclared war and a traveling epidemic which visits death and mourning before moving on to its next surprise engagement.
No single community can conquer this silent and unseen carnival of bloodletting — for no single peddler of this sudden death and violence will tell us their plans. They will not reveal to us their targets or intents. They simply kill at random.
This is inevitable because these macabre and dangerous madmen (they are nearly all men) likely do not themselves know or understand the existential tugs that will drive them to start rampaging.
Any other ordinary fits of anger, revenge or simple grudge might predictably end as the larger community by dint of simple force of numbers and brute strength might hold a violent bully at bay — but a bully armed with an AR-15 or any of a number of other assault weapons is not stopped by numbers.
These weapons, created for engagements in active combat, take our civil society by force and they take police by surprise. They amount to an invasion and landing by an enemy who need never cross our borders.
For when these traveling combatants appear from the ranks of our “law-abiding citizens” — those who cling so tenaciously to the second portion of our Bill of Rights — there is no defense to make to their armed onslaught.
We all become outnumbered. We all become victims.
But ask yourself, if this continued but unpredictable rampage of violence arose from a foreign soil — or from anyone who wore the uniform or military insignia of any nation-state intent on bringing about our deaths — would we be helpless and still?
Could we or would we simply stand by as just another ceaseless fusillade of terror ran? Or would we bring its end.
Albert Turner Goins Sr. lives in White Bear Lake.