08/09/2012 02:37 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2012

Who Are We

I understand violence. I've seen it, been there, done that. The military has a violent purpose, and warfare kills directly and collaterally. Southeast Asia, Central America, Bosnia, Caucasus. I have seen too much of it.

But what we do in the so-called "developed" world is kill children in schools or at campsites, students and professors in classrooms, worshippers in temples and churches. Americans are not alone in the carnage, with horrendous human slaughter having occurred within the last two decades in Scotland, Germany, Brazil, Finland, and the heinous acts in Norway last July.

The frequency with which Americans must experience "breaking news" about new mass murders committed with rapid fire and large magazine firearms is, however, never-ending.

I live in Virginia, one of the states in which concealed handguns can be carried. So at Trader Joes or Whole Foods in the produce aisle, one never knows who is packing heat. Well, the asparagus could attack, I suppose.

Who are we as a nation that allows, endorses, and even champions the ready availability of not just handguns for self protection, a rifle for deer season, or a shotgun for hunting birds? An AR-15 with a 100-round magazine? A Glock with a 30-round magazine?

Conservatives who value Constitutional guarantees from the late 18th century should check their reset button. At a time of muskets and duels, the most damage might be an Aaron Burr lucky shot from 30 paces into Alexander Hamilton. Now, one man can mow down 12 innocent moviegoers (and injure many others) in moments. They died because he had the "legal" right to buy weapons and enough ammo on line to defend Aleppo.

The terrible evil that is running amok in the United States (and other countries as we have seen) is a macabre fascination with carnage. Video games, hate music, and grisly films and television propagate this lust for gore. Peaceful, contemplative America is quite literally "out-gunned" by the onslaught of an invitation to violence.

At Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, a son of one of my friends died when Cho Seung-Hui went on his rampage. Although I did not know anyone linked to Columbine, I had to break the news of Aurora to my friend from Boulder in the early morning of that awful day. I sobbed a full half hour before telling her of what had transpired a short drive from her home. I had served as a Congressional staffer 20 years ago, and imagined myself at the "meet and greet" event where Gabby Giffords was grievously wounded and six others, including a 6-year-old girl, were killed. And, for the first time in years, I received an email from my Norwegian cousin after the July 2011 heinous killings saying his heart was broken and his belief in any god abandoned. Near Milwaukee lives one of my college friends whose career took him to the area; his email's subject was painfully "did you hear?"

Yes, I heard, and we should all listen. This is what we are doing to ourselves. Oak Creek, Wis., is only the latest. Perhaps this shooter was someone injured by a lifetime of failures. Perhaps he was someone blinded by ideological bigotry and cultural ignorance. But, the cops did us proud, brought him down, and saved us from yet more Brevnik-like speeches in countries that eschew the death penalty.

To preclude more horror will require what we do not now foresee -- political courage. President Obama at least spoke words acknowledging the tragedy and, after Aurora, the role of guns in creating such carnage. This should become a centerpiece of his reelection. The NRA will spend and spend to fight for the rights of anyone to be locked, loaded, and on the lookout; Willard Romney is unlikely to speak more than to say how sorry he and Ann are. Dick Cheney should be kept off the firing range.