When do we stop? I mean, when do we, the people of the United States of America, stop what we’re doing in our daily lives to recognize that the country is going fully in the wrong direction with guns and violence, and with almost no political leadership willing to counter it?
When do we stop to demand something be done? When do we demand a U-turn from the robust manufacture and sale of guns that cause mass death?
I mean, when do we stop normalizing insanity? When do we stop accepting guns of all varieties, in the hands of all kinds of people, as the price of freedom?
Do we wait, as individuals, until something happens to us, to our friends or relatives, in a church or school, mosque or synagogue, or at the movies? I went to a concert in a music hall last week and had a thought I never entertained until the last few years — what escape route do we use in the event of a shooting? There were long tables and chairs in the venue. I wondered: Do we flip the tables and hide or do we run for the exits?
This is insanity, my fellow Americans. This is not freedom.
People my age, baby boomers, are handing off a mess of a country to our children and grandchildren. We have political leadership in denial about climate change, a big problem in the sky, and guns, a huge problem right here on the ground, in our midst. And a long assortment of other problems overdue for remedy — drug addiction, untreated mental illness, too many children experiencing poverty and trauma.
“I think we’ve lost Baltimore,” a friend said the other day, reflecting on the high per capita rate of homicide in my adopted hometown, as well as a recent spate of seemingly random violence against people just out to have a good time — on the way to a neighborhood bar, or for a stroll along the Inner Harbor.
I think the statement is hyperbole, but it’s a way of saying we are in danger of losing the civic support of people who recently moved to the city because, in part, they believe in Baltimore’s future and see urban living as the way to go in the 21st Century. If we don’t end the violence, or at least get it under control, we could see another slide in population and in the visitors who sustain the city’s restaurants, hotels and theaters.
I could say the same for the whole country: “I think we’ve lost America.”
It sounds extreme, but we are living in extreme times. You have to stop and see that today, or you’ll never notice it.
I don’t mean the game is over for this democracy. I mean, we have walked right up to the edge of something dark and disastrous. And a lot of this was happening before nearly 63 million of my fellow Americans decided that Donald J. Trump was a good choice for president. Violence has infested the country for way too long — violence easily executed because of the availability of guns.
The violence in Baltimore, the killings of one man or one woman at a time, in houses, cars and on street corners — that is all made possible with firearms.
The violence in the workplace, like what we saw in Harford County recently — a gun was the instrument of death there, too.
The violence on a mass scale, like what has happened so many times in our lifetimes, most recently Sunday morning in a church in Texas — guns that no one should need for self-protection or for the deer hunt made that possible, too.
But you know all that.
You are, like me, no longer shocked by that.
And that’s the problem. You think the National Rifle Association, and those who support it, have won the day. And by now, there are so many guns, how on earth do we make the U-turn away from the arming of America?
We do it by stopping, right here, to say, “This has to stop.” I say it about Baltimore, a city that deserves more than some cynical and surreal acceptance of everyday violence, and I say it about my country, one that still regards itself as exceptional and capable of great things.
But there is nothing exceptional nor great about a country, or a city, that won’t recognize a deadly problem and pull out all stops to stop it. We can’t survive this way, unless what you have in mind for the future is some evil, foreboding and spiritually-impoverished world where everyone is armed and afraid, looking out for only themselves and kin.
The American ideal is supposed to be better than that, right?
A lot of people, including Trump, got into an uproar about National Football League players taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice. Those who feel so strongly about that — about respecting the flag and the country and the veterans of the U.S. military — should pour some of that anger and passion into the gun problem. They should demand that their country be a better country, and that its children grow up to know more peace than violence. That would be a bullishly patriotic position to stake out, especially for those who own guns.
Recognize, starting today, that we have gone too far down the wrong path. Recognize that we have to stop here and turn it around.
Dan Rodricks is an award-winning columnist for the Baltimore Sun newspapers, and host of the Roughly Speaking podcast for baltimoresun.com.