The details are horrifying. At a Wednesday night bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, a gunman sat with his eventual victims for an hour before opening fire, murdering nine people in cold blood, in their place of worship. One little girl, just five years old, played dead in order to survive.
A congregation has been shaken, a community torn apart, lives turned upside down. For too many people in Charleston, nothing will ever be the same.
But let's be clear: This was no "unfathomable," "inexplicable" tragedy, as many of our elected leaders and media spokespeople have described it.
Those words fit an accidental house fire, not a vicious act of gun violence, planned and perpetrated by a dangerous individual with an arrest record -- someone who should never have been able to get his hands on a gun.
The fact is, this racially charged mass shooting -- in one of America's oldest African American churches -- was entirely predictable. The danger signs were flashing.
So, don't call this an "unimaginable tragedy." And don't respond to America's relentless barrage of gun violence with just another moment of silence or soft-spoken words of condolence. This is an epidemic, and it demands action.
That's why, in just one day, hundreds of people from all across Wisconsin signed on to a letter demanding that Senator Ron Johnson, who heads the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, answer one simple question:
Are you willing to lead a society in which not even our churches are safe and our children must learn to play dead to survive, or will you finally take the steps we already know can end this epidemic and save lives?
It's not rhetorical. As Chairman, Senator Johnson has the authority -- and the moral obligation -- to act. He must stop ignoring the day-in, day-out threat gun violence poses to each and every American, not only in our churches, but also in our classrooms and playgrounds, in our movie theaters and grocery stores, and even in our own homes.
Unless we stop making it ludicrously easy for dangerous people to get their hands on guns, these killings will continue.
If the gun violence this nation experiences doesn't pose a clear and present threat to homeland security, to the lives of Americans within our own shores, I don't know what does.
President Obama didn't call out Senator Johnson directly in his remarks Thursday afternoon, but there's no doubting who and what is standing in the way of strong, commonsense gun laws:
I've had to make statements like this too many times. Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times. We don't have all the facts but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun. Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let's be clear. At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it'd be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it's going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it.
Indeed, good and caring people all across the country must "come to grips with it," must demand meaningful actions that will put an end to the gun violence, which threatens our security every day. And the time to do that is now. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Now.