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SPOTLIGHT
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What the heck is going on?

Published on -9/25/2013, 9:59 AM

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Is America crazy?

Twelve people killed at a secure naval installation virtually on the front porch of the federal government, eight others hurt, the shooter shot to death, and it's just another manic Monday, another day in the life of a nation under the gun. So yes, maybe it's time we acknowledged that gorilla in the back seat, time we asked the painfully obvious.

Is America crazy?

You know, don't you, Muslims watched this unfold with a prayer on their lips: "Don't let him be a Muslim. Don't let him be a Muslim. Please don't let him be a Muslim." Because they know -- the last 12 years have forcefully taught them -- how the actions of a lone madman can be used to tar an entire cause, religion or people.

In the end, almost as if in refutation of our ready-made narratives and practiced outrage, the shooter turns out to be a black Buddhist from Texas. It is a uniquely American amalgam that defies our love of easy, simplistic categories.

As we are thus deprived of ready-made cultural blame, the story likely will fall now into a well-worn groove. Someone will disinter Wayne LaPierre of the NRA from whatever crypt they keep him in between tragedies and he will say what he always does about how this could have been avoided if only more people in this secure military facility had been armed. And we will have the argument we always have about a constitutional amendment written in an era when muskets were state of the art and citizen militias guarded the frontier. And politicians will say the things they always say and nothing will change.

Is America crazy?

Infoplease.com, the online version of the old Information Please almanac, maintains a list of school shootings and mass shootings internationally since 1996. Peruse it, and one thing leaps out. Though such tragedies have touched places as far-flung as Carmen de Patagones, Argentina, and Erfurt, Germany, the list is absolutely dominated by American towns: Tucson, Memphis, Cold Spring, Red Lake, Tacoma, Jacksonville, Aurora, Oakland, Newtown. No other country even comes close.

In 1968, when Robert Kennedy became the victim of the fifth political assassination in five years, the historian Arthur Schlesinger famously asked a question: "What sort of people are we, we Americans? Today, we are the most frightening people on this planet."

Forty-five years later, we may or may not still be the most frightening. But we are surely among the most frightened.

Indeed, for all our historical courage, we are in many ways a terrified people. Scared of the face at the window, the rattle at the door, the Other who wants to take our stuff. Scared of the overthrow of one of the most stable governments on earth.

So we arm ourselves to the tune of a reported 300 million guns in a nation of 316 million souls -- no other country has more guns per capita. Americans, you see, don't just like and use guns. We worship guns, mythologize guns, fetishize guns. Cannot conceive of ourselves without guns.

Thus, the idea of restricting access to them threatens something fundamental. Apparently, we'd rather endure these tragedies that repeat themselves that repeat themselves that repeat themselves as if on some diabolical loop, than explore reasonable solutions.

Is that a quantifiable malady, a treatable disorder?

Is America crazy?

Recently, the Des Moines Register reported the state of Iowa issues gun carry permits to blind people. And people began debating this on grounds of constitutionality and equal access as if the very idea were not absurd on its face.

Is America crazy?

Look at those people who fled the Navy Yard, look at the Senate when it was on lockdown, look at the blind man packing. Ask yourself:

Does that look like sanity to you?

Leonard Pitts is a columnist

for the Miami Herald.

lpitts@miamiherald.com

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