02/18/2008 05:00 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A Modest Proposal

The news of yet another shooting spree--the latest, as of this writing, at Northern Illinois University--begs a question that's rarely asked these days. Not "Why did he do it?" It's human nature to want an answer to that one, of course, even though the headlines move on well before anything approaching a useful analysis can ever be figured out, and we're left to conclude what's most obvious: Like the others, he did it because he could. And the question isn't "How could this happen here?" Sadly, most people have come to understand that they shouldn't expect their communities to be immune.

No, what I want to know is this: Since when did the repeated and senseless murder of innocent Americans by other Americans become a subject that's too trivial for politicians to address in a serious, sustained way? And I mean going beyond the robo-response "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families." I'm talking about leading a public discussion on how to prevent others from needing our thoughts and prayers.

First, as with all problems, we need to recognize that one exists before attempting to solve it. Is it too much of an impossible dream for Americans on both sides of the ideological fence to agree that disturbed people mowing down their fellow citizens in public places is a bad thing? And if we prefer not to live a modern version of "The Lottery," the Shirley Jackson short story in which a community's citizens draw lots to see who's going to be stoned next, do we have a choice other than to resign ourselves to it? No one says "Diseases are here to stay." No one says "I guess the economy is just going to suck."

One only has to look to other western cultures to see that they don't play this game. It's not that they don't have disgruntled former employees, victims of bullying, and loners who feel that their lives have gone down the drain, and no one cares. Random violence breaks out in their societies, too; it's just that their laws don't make it so damn easy.

Where's the leadership on this issue? Why aren't candidates for the highest office in the land at the very least opening a dialogue on the subject? The Democrats used to act as if finding solutions to gun violence mattered, but at some point--during the Gore campaign, as I recall--they decided that the topic was a political loser, and the less said about it, the better. So the attempt to solve the problem went away. But the problem never did.

So Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain: I'm talking to you. In exit polls, voters may not name anxiety about gun violence as one of the reasons they voted for you, but the toll on their quality of life, in terms of stress and tears, is high. If you really want to prove that you're a strong leader, let Americans know that you recognize their anxiety and sense of loss, and you're going to make it your mission to do something about it.