Questions of Mass Dysfunction

That a society should send its soldiers halfway around the world to place their lives in peril seeking weapons of mass destruction that prove not to be there -- while handing them out at home as a matter of routine, even at times, if inadvertently, to the mentally unhinged -- raises questions of mass dysfunction. Serious questions about grave, dire, lethal, tragic, and ultimately inexcusable dysfunction.

We should not need to be addressing this now, in the aftermath of the Colorado theater massacre. Because we've had this chance before. Been here, done this. Even Colorado has been here before -- if in Columbine, rather than Aurora. But we are here again because the mass dysfunction is not just acute -- it is chronic.

I doubt that any of us can even imagine the horrors inside that theater. The only members of our society likely even to come close are our troops who have seen combat, and perhaps civilian officials who have experienced the more violent extremes of their trade.

But even they -- soldiers and police -- may not fully know the devastating mayhem of a theater massacre. Because soldiers and police, at least to some degree, expect bullets to fly; it's an occupational hazard. Not so for people out to enjoy a movie. I think the difference does matter, in just the ways that terrorism differs from combat -- compounding the horror of events in Aurora.

And so, I suspect, there are many more casualties of this event. People who will relive the traumatic aftermath of what they saw for years, and maybe forever.

My credentials to reflect on that are very modest, but I do have some. I was stabbed on a train while spending a semester of college in Europe.

Across a span of mere minutes, I went from being a frowsty student, nibbling on the remains of the day's picnic of breads and cheeses, dreaming of tomorrow -- to a desperate young man trying not to let his left thumb fall on the floor, bleed to death, or let the guy with the knife stab me again. The rest of the story is a bit long and messy, but suffice to say I defended myself, and both I and my thumb made it through. But even that trauma -- nothing but trivial in comparison to what happened in that theater -- gave me months of flashbacks, and changed my worldview forever.

And, of course, if my assailant had a gun rather than knife, I would almost certainly have died on that long-ago day. If I had a gun, he might be dead, or we both might be, or maybe others on the train would be. And if either of us had the kind of firepower unleashed in that theater -- well, the results of that speak for themselves.

The propaganda we seem willing to put up with goes like this: Guns don't kill, people kill. But guns make people a whole lot better at killing. If they didn't, what would justify the clamor for them? I doubt it's because they make such lovely paperweights. Guns make people much, much better at killing. They make good people better at killing. They make bad people better at killing. And they make crazy people better at killing.

That the U.S. Constitution is invoked in any way to justify the sale of assault weapons to ordinary citizens must have the Founding Fathers turning over in their graves, and is an insult to every patriot among us since their time. Does anyone truly think Thomas Jefferson or James Madison envisioned a "right to bear arms" extending to the sale of high-tech combat gear to grad students?

For far too long, the well-funded and effectively vocalized distortions of the NRA have held politicians, the will of the majority, and common sense hostage in this country. Every day they have done so, people have paid with their lives. The toll of day-to-day casualties attributable to the use of weapons no one but our military should have is numerically much greater than the losses in Aurora, but lacks the drama.

Some have devoted their mouths and their money to the cause of keeping military-grade weaponry accessible to the guy next door, the grad student down the hall -- who might, of course, just turn out to be crazy. But it's crazy not to think that something is awry when someone other than the Pentagon or a SWAT team goes on that kind of shopping spree. Other than catastrophic mayhem, what, exactly, could ever be the intended purpose of such weapons in non-military hands?

And speaking of hands -- we all have blood on ours -- except for the few who have been fighting, futilely so far, for any semblance of sane gun control. There is blood on the hands of those who fight to keep things the way they are -- and blood on the hands of those of us who haven't risen up in defense of our country, our culture, and our convictions. When we fail to do so this time, too, the fault will redound to the shame of us all.

Because this is about mass dysfunction -- no question.