National suicide plays out one murderous mass shooting at a time

Los Angeles Times editorial board (TNS)
A woman cries as she leave the Uvalde Civic Center following a shooting earlier in the day at Robb Elementary School, Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. (William Luther/The San Antonio Express-News via AP)

Perhaps this is how it all ends — self-government, self-defense, self-control, liberty, unity, family. Perhaps the fate of the nation is to watch its soul die along with the at least 19 students and two adults shot to death Tuesday at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. This is us, the American people, on both sides of that gun — and countless other guns on countless playgrounds, shopping centers, streets and homes, killing our children, ourselves and each other. Killing our future.

This is who we are. This is what we have become. We can no longer send our children to school without pangs of anxiety that they will be in the line of fire in what ought to be havens of safety and learning. Nor can we find refuge in churches, mosques or synagogues, or in shopping centers, or at baby showers, picnics or parties. When we feel in danger, we get out our guns. Our guns put us in danger, so we get more.

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Abraham Lincoln, in his earliest known public address, said that the still-young United States could never be brought down by a foreign enemy. It was 1838, he was only 28, and the Civil War was still nearly a quarter-century into the future. But he was correct when he told his Lyceum audience that “All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.”

No, any danger to the U.S. comes from within. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher,” he said. “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

He was president by the time the nation had its most serious brush with suicide over the question of whether freedom means some people have the liberty to buy, own and exploit others, or whether it instead means all must be free. The Civil War was straightforward, with a clear enemy — even though it was ourselves — that wore different uniforms and could be defeated on the battlefield.

Now it’s not so simple. We are again our own enemies, but what are we killing ourselves for? We don’t even know. We just keep getting our guns, loading them and pulling the trigger. We elect political leaders who promise action, but we never hold them accountable. In any case, the killings continue. This may be the suicide of which Lincoln spoke. This may be why we die, not for a great cause but for a loss of love and respect for one another and the dream that bound our forebears together.

Is this where the American dream dies — not on a battlefield, but in our own homes and schools, by our own hands and the hands of our neighbors?

— From the Los Angeles Times editorial board (TNS).