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We must admit it: This is who we are

Sam Cook

On the way to work last week, two days after the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., I listened to a newscast in which a sobbing father lamented the loss of his 14-year-old daughter.

It was deeply emotional and heart-rending. It brought the horror of the tragedy to a personal level. It is one thing to talk in an abstract sense about such an event in terms of death toll and shooter profile and what went wrong. It's quite another to drive along imagining if that had happened to your own daughter or son.

We might as well face it as a nation: This is who we are. As a people, as a society, as a government, we are saying that we are willing to accept these recurring nightmares. Columbine, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, Aurora, Red Lake. Now, Parkland.

We might say we do not accept these killings, that we are better than this. But as a nation, the facts do not lie. We have been — we are — willing to let these slaughters continue. It is no longer a question of whether they will continue. It is only a matter of when and where. And who.

We are kidding ourselves if we believe these tragedies affect only the schools and venues where they occur. They touch all of us. How many kids have come home from school and asked, "Daddy, is someone going to come to my school and try to shoot me?" How many teachers walk into classrooms every morning concerned not just with subjects and predicates and common denominators but with what he or she would do if a shooter burst through the door before lunch? How many of us filing into a football stadium or to a marathon starting line have wondered, is today the day? Is this the place?

What does it do to a child's psyche, living with this kind of uncertainty or dread? How can we allow a generation to grow up this way? How have we, as adults, come to accept this as business as usual? How long are we willing to let our kids be collateral damage to a way of life we have chosen?

It wasn't always this way. Yes, bad things happened. There were always people who were troubled, deranged, demented. Some people have always fallen through the cracks, slipped through the system. But it was never so easy for them to wreak their vengeance on so many, so quickly.

At some point, we must no longer think of this as Parkland or Las Vegas or Sandy Hook.

We need to think of it as us. You and me. Our country. Our values. Our government. Our laws.

Most other countries do not choose to live this way. They hold values, elect leaders and pass laws that make it much more difficult for disturbed individuals to gun down the innocent in wholesale fashion. Even in those countries, it still happens occasionally. But it is far less common than here in America.

Yes, it would be good if we could nab these mass murderers before they went on their killing sprees. The warning signs are nearly always there in retrospect. But it is impossible to know which troubled individuals will slip through the assessments of our social networks, our health-care system and our law enforcement agencies. In some cases, there are no signals at all.

We must ask ourselves: Are we willing to trade the lives of our kids — maybe your kids, maybe your grandkids, while they're at school, at a concert, at a movie — for whatever freedoms we hold dear in our land? Because that is where we are right now. We are saying, as a people and as a country — yes, this is OK. We are willing to keep killing our kids. It's just the cost of doing business.

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