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[NOTE: The following essay was published just before a white lunatic with a handgun killed nine black people in a church in South Carolina. This latest mass slaying by firearm features guns, god, and racism all together in one tragic American moment.]

It would be really spectacular to add a big electric digital scoreboard to the new World Trade Center building (Freedom Tower) in New York City that could display some relevant “land of the free” numbers – total number of deaths by gunshot in each calendar year in the US, total number of deaths by gunshot by police officers and of police officers side-by-side, and for good measure, separate numbers for accidental deaths, suicides, and just plain old criminal homicides by gunshot. If we want to be fair, we could add a global touch by including the totals for England, Germany, and Japan to the scoreboard. [See Note below.] If you want to see real American exceptionalism, get in line to see this digital scoreboard while hanging out at America’s newest shrine to itself.

Second Amendment wet dreams continue to fuel a society that has become so inured to daily gun violence that the key issue of the day is who can get the best video so we can morosely view the carnage up close and personal. The cellphone video has replaced breathless eyewitnesses as the testimony du jour to the daily violence that pollutes America. Each new video is introduced by a painted puppet of a newsreader who solemnly warns us that what we are about to see may be “disturbing.”

I’m not sure why “news” outlets feel the need to warn us in this way, since there is no evidence that either the video or the underlying gun violence is disturbing anybody very much. If the reality of dead bodies in the streets doesn’t move you, why would a video of dead bodies move you? In real America, despite the carnage, there does not seem to be anyone even talking about what can be done to reduce the gun violence.

The pandering horde of Republican politicos on the right treat the second amendment to the US Constitution as biblically derived and as inviolate as the virgins that wander in their imaginary universe. Any meaningful 21st century reading of that amendment would leave considerable room for a country free of many of the estimated 300 million firearms in civilian hands in the United States today. [See Note below.] And this doesn’t even confront the issue of what percentage of those civilian hands are attached to dysfunctional brains.

Even progressives seem to cower in the face of gun nut “logic,” conspicuously leaving gun control legislation out of their plans for a better America. While both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton gave rousing announcement speeches calling on the faithful to strive for everything from income equity to opportunity equity, not a word was uttered about gun control or the plague of gun violence. [NOTE: Martin O’Malley when Governor of Maryland successfully championed meaningful gun control measures in that state in 2014.]

Second amendment gun nuts have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations in so many ways. America the beautiful has become America the scared, America the armed, and America the cowering. Fear of gun violence blights our already impoverished inner cities. Estranged spouses, friends, and lovers and their children cower at home in the hope that some armed and deranged “loved one” won’t further alter their already diminished world. And who knows when some chance encounter on the road will result in a confrontation with an armed and pissed-off lunatic?

Perhaps worst of all, in a somewhat cruel and ironic twist, it seems that those sworn to uphold the law and to keep public fear at bay are themselves so afraid of the armed camps they patrol that they can no longer appreciate the frequent disproportionality of their response. All too often, police recruits are castoffs from the cauldron of war and trained anew as if they were still at war.

Today in America, a cop draws a loaded gun at a pool party for teenage kids because a few black kids may have mouthed off a bit, groups of cops swarm what turns out to be an unarmed guy in the wrong place at the wrong time and leave him bloodied, and a 12-year old black child with a toy gun is dead at the hands of police officers who shot him without warning in a park. You know that fear is the currency of the streets when police officer fear is a significant driver of violence in communities across America.

As a nation, we have sold our soul to the arms merchants at a terrible price. Fear now stalks our streets at home. People arm themselves in fear of others with firearms, a kind of second amendment roulette in which the players hope the little ball stops somewhere else. The gun nuts fear each other and the government in the name of an imagined “freedom.” Personally, I would prefer freedom from both guns and gun nuts.

NOTE: “The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world - an average of 88 per 100 people. That puts it first in the world for gun ownership - and even the number two country, Yemen, has significantly fewer - 54.8 per 100 people”

It is worth noting in this context that in 2007 alone, three times the number of folks who died on 9/11 died in firearm homicides in the US.

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