On an average day, about 40 people are murdered every day in the United States. That, in and of itself, is unconscionable, but there are some killings that are so beyond awful that they reach out -- sometimes from the other side of America -- and punch you in the gut. The violent death of an Australian baseball player named Chris Lane -- gunned down, according to police, by three teenagers in a passing car as he jogged through the streets of Duncan, Oklahoma -- is one of these.
The story is at turns maddening and revolting. Lane was a handsome and fit 22-year-old with a devoted girlfriend who left his homeland to come halfway around the world to master the sport that Americans invented. Instead, he was killed -- ironically, for "sport" -- by total strangers, a interracial gaggle of gang wannabes who told police they murdered Lane (and, for what it's worth, threw the rest of their own lives away) because they were "bored" and had nothing else to do.
There's small comfort in knowing that there most certainly will be justice here -- that the three alleged killers are in custody and will surely be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. But the story has remained alive -- on talk radio, cable news, and on the top of widely read websites -- because of the mind-numbing senselessness of it all. There's never a good reason for taking another human's life, but the murder of Chris Lane -- by all accounts so far -- has absolutely no reason behind it whatsoever.
But yet while no one can reasonably claim that this Oklahoma tragedy has been ignored, there's one aspect of the killing that jumps off the page, and yet -- but for a couple of isolated exceptions -- has been all but banned as a topic for discussion.
No doubt, we need to have a conversation about the immorality that would cause someone of high school age to murder out of boredom.
But -- yet again -- there seems to be a blackout on discussions about how America is unique among places in the world where bored and morally unformed teenagers have such easy access to deadly guns.
Think about it. You were a teenager once, and so you know that teenagers -- OK, maybe not you, but people you went to school with -- do some really, really dumb things. Give a bored 16-year-old a snowball and some passing cars, and he'll be chased into the woods by a cop. Give him a handful of rocks, and he's going down to the stationhouse. But in Duncan, Okla.., that kid had a .22 caliber revolver. We don't know yet know how that happened -- but we know that a good man is dead and three young lives can't be redeemed because of a split-second, irrevocable decision to pull the trigger on a gun.
Let's be honest. It's taken this country less than ten months -- ten months! -- to get back to the bad place that we were in the late fall of 2012, when acclaimed sportscaster Bob Costas was practically tarred and feathered for calling America's gun culture into question when a player for the Kansas City Chiefs used a gun to murder the mother of his child, then kill himself.
Then came Newtown just a few days later, and the images of 20 first-graders methodically mowed down in their classrooms, right before Christmas, was too much for millions of people to ignore... at least for a time, anyway. When the National Rifle Association pulled its strings and its bought-and-paid-for puppets wouldn't even allow a vote on a tame measure calling for better background checks on gun buyers, the national response morphed quickly from rage to a collective shrug. Now, we're already back to where the implement that allowed some dumb kids to become cold-blooded killers in a split-second of half-formed neurons is again something that dare not speak its name.
Is it "politicizing a tragedy" to talk about sane gun laws in the wake of Chris Lane's murder? I don't know. Is it politicizing Lane's killing to talk about "thug culture," or gangs, or the race of some of the suspects? -- because people who don't want to mention America's obscene level of gun violence seem very content to talk about those things. Should Chris Lane's murder get the same level of attention as the Trayvon Martin case? Perhaps. All I know right now is that both Lane and Martin would be alive today if the strangers that they encountered were not carrying guns.
Meanwhile, you may have heard on the news that some people in Lane's native Australia are furious at the United States, that a few have even talked about a tourism boycott. But many media accounts have left out the real reason why Australians are so angry. It's not so much about the "thug culture." It's that the U.S. body politic refuses to take action on guns:
Tim Fischer, who served as deputy prime minister under John Howard from 1996 to 1999, urged Australians not to travel to the United States. He said that such a boycott would send a message about the need for tighter gun control regulations in the United States, according to News.com.au.
"I am deeply angry about this because of the callous attitude of the three teenagers (but) it's a sign of the proliferation of guns on the ground in the USA," Fischer said this week. "This is the bitter harvest and legacy of the policies of the NRA ... "
As deputy prime minister, Fisher led Australia's gun control reforms in the late '90s alongside Howard.
It's ironic, because Australia is proof that things in America don't have to be this way. Before enacting saner gun laws, the Land Down Under had witnessed 13 mass killings in 18 years. Since legislation was enacted there have been none. Let me repeat that: None. Isolated murders by gunfire have not been eliminated there, of course, but they have dropped substantially -- down 59 percent over a decade. And the last I heard, Australia has not become a tyrannical hellscape because of its saner gun laws.
Those are the good consequences of doing something about a social problem -- a sensation that Americans have seen to all but forgotten in recent decades. Australians look at our failure to act after a slaughter like the Newtown massacre, at our seeming tolerance of dozens of gun murders like that of Chris Lane every day... and they just don't get it.
Neither do I.