For almost all Americans, the idea of taking a high-powered rifle or handgun and wantonly shooting young schoolchildren or mall-goers or any group of innocent people is repugnant and repulsive.
We recoil to the core at the very notion; it's anathema to everything we know and believe about humanity, morality and civilized citizenship. We wouldn't, couldn't, do such a thing even if a gun were held to our own head.
Yet there are some among us who deliberately, willfully and maliciously plan, prepare and execute such barbaric atrocities. Like cancer cells, which use normal body systems like circulation and lymphatics to become life-threatening, mass shooters use our self-government's guarantees and protections of liberty, freedom and due process to become killers.
That's frustrating, to say the least.
And though we can debate what exactly is "wrong" with them and how or when or why that "wrongness" occurred, the consensus is we all want them stopped.
We want to "do something" because we're a nation of doers, a people with active verbs prominent in our vocabulary. Work ethic is an all-American trait, and fixing things is the Holy Grail in our pursuit of productive labor and output as identity and achievement.
But we also have a government that operates under a set of declared and supreme individual rights. It derives its limited powers from the consent of the governed and uses a structure of checks and balances to prevent infringement of those God-given rights.
For nearly 247 years, the U.S. is and has been the world's finest example of a representative, democratic republic.
A state of free civilization is both a blessing and a curse, however. The first thing to remember about freedom is that it gives us free choice.
We can choose to love our neighbor, or to kill our neighbor. We can decide to shoot up a school, and all the while we're planning it the government presumes us to be innocent. More than that, actually: The government is duty-bound to protect our privacy rights during those months of diabolical plotting.
The rule of law that allows us the liberty to launch malice aforethought as a clear and present danger also prevents police from interrupting or interfering with our murderous scheme. Even after such an atrocity is committed, and even if caught red-handed, all perpetrators are considered innocent by the government until proven guilty in a court of law.
This is because, as a free people and a nation of laws, we value Blackstone's English Common Law idea that it's better for 10 guilty persons to go free than one innocent person suffer wrongly. Our love of liberty places legal primacy on protecting the innocent over ensuring punishment for the guilty.
Not surprisingly, that formula is frequently reversed in totalitarian and communist regimes, where dictators have argued--and acted--on the principle that the worst thing is a guilty person escaping justice, regardless of how many innocents must also suffer in that cause.
The fundamental reality is this: The person who will mow down elementary-age children with an AR-15 is incompatible with any form of civilized government. They are barbaric in the cruel and uncivilized sense, and any society that expects moral behavior from barbarous individuals is fatalistically foolish.
When somebody says "nobody needs an AR-15-style weapon," what they really mean is "nobody except government-sanctioned people like police or military" (as if those guys never commit crimes or atrocities).
Drawing such a line of differentiation, based solely on low-volume criminal abuse of a weapon, is essentially a declaration of distrust about the vast citizenry in general. It's also the height of naivete about historical precedents: Governments that don't trust their citizens almost always wind up tyrannizing them (or worse).
Firearms in the hands of responsible Americans are a force for good and a source of self-protection, and deployed safely in that manner hundreds of thousands times more than they're used in murders.
They're a threat to no one, which is borne out statistically: As a percentage of all guns of all types in America, those used in mass shootings are an astonishingly small speck in the universe. For all murders, it's still a tiny speck.
Politicians politicize; it's what they do. So whenever another mass shooting makes headlines, their instinct is to posture publicly over it--but only at the shallowest level, calculated to align rhetoric with "voter issues."
The deeper conversation we ought to be having is why our culture seems to be producing more barbaric criminals who can't co-exist peacefully in any society, and what we need to do as a people to address and remedy that.
American citizenship and self-government was never envisioned to be merely the technical obedience of U.S. statutes. Barbaric people are still barbaric even when they're driving the speed limit.
Our constitutional government was intended to be a framework that enabled the greatest free and independent expression and enjoyment of God's natural rights and law by a moral, decent people.
America needs some serious national soul-searching, but the problem is too many people want to look to the soul-less government--rather than the mirror--for answers.
Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.