Yet again we are shocked. We hear the staccato bursts of semi-automatic fire echoing off the walls of a supposed place of safety. We register not only the terror but the bewilderment on the faces of tiny survivors as they are marched, hands on the shoulders of kids in front of them, from the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Last week's Newtown, Conn. massacre reminds us that America is emphatically not, as President Obama and the rest of us would wish it to be, "better than this."
Indeed, we are the only First World nation that has routinized a failed response to gun violence -- weak, craven, ineffectual. It's not that other parts of the world are immune from "rampage violence." It's just that when it does happen those other countries tend to take action, while the U.S. dithers, continuing to far outstrip the rest of the developed world in rates of mass murder.
In keeping with a tradition of both public and private grieving, we light our candles and gather to weep with others on street corners and in houses of worship. We cry tears into the sink as we rinse out our coffee mugs, or transfer clothes from washer to dryer. We write editorials, such as this one, bemoaning the "gun culture," inadequate laws and controls, and our society's failure to help, or at least protect us from, those suffering dangerous forms of mental illness.
Then, for those of us who did not lose our own children, we return inexorably to the habits of daily living. With absolutely nothing accomplished.
We are in denial about our duty to stop gun violence. We're awed by what we perceive to be the power of the National Rifle Association, and the political clout of those members of congress whose loyalty has been purchased by the NRA.
So we wait. We wait for the next slaughter, knowing it will surely come. Nothing has changed, nothing will change. Not unless we resolve to become, in the president's aspirational words, "better than this."
How do we accomplish that? Through repeal of the Second Amendment, and the enactment of a new constitutional amendment.
The Second Amendment -- elevated to a state of holiness, its problematic comma debated for decades and "resolved," for the moment, by the Supreme Court -- is a relic. It made sense when it was written. It does not make sense now.
What would a new "right to bear arms" amendment look like? If I were writing it, it would contain provisions for:
•Registration of all firearms;
•Licensing of all gun owners, predicated on completion of a background check and a passing score in a reputable gun-safety course;
•Safe and secure storage and transport of all firearms;
•Criminal and civil penalties for owners whose guns have fallen negligently into the hands of violent felons, minors, the mentally ill;
•Ban on all assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, except for those possessed by the military and law enforcement;
•Ban on so-called "armor-piercing" handgun bullets;
•The elimination of the infamous gun-show loophole in the Brady bill.
Seven years ago I included a chapter in my book, Breaking Rank, entitled, "Getting a Grip on Guns." I wrote then that Senator Barry Goldwater had argued some 35 years earlier against gun control because "it would take 50 years to get rid of [them]."
I'm not advocating getting rid of guns. I'm talking about controlling them. Robustly, effectively. Imagine how far down the road, how much safer -- how much more free -- our country would be if we had committed to sensible gun control measures when Goldwater made that statement.
We enacted alcohol prohibition through a constitutional amendment (the Eighteenth). Thirteen years later we struck it down with a constitutional amendment (the Twenty-first). If legal sanctions can allow grownups to enjoy a cocktail, why can we not enact a constitutional protection that will drastically reduce the number of killings of innocent citizens, including the most innocent of all, our children?