The shooting in Buffalo and the American heart

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The mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, shows just how much venom and poison flow through America’s body politic these days.

An 18-year-old armed with a military-style firearm and inflamed by racist and anti-Semitic invective traveled more than 200 miles from his home to slaughter 10 innocent people who never knew of his existence, much less did him any harm, before he mowed them down. He killed them because he’d been told and taught that anyone who was different from him was a threat and therefore deserving of death.

It’s hard to know how to respond to something this tragic, this awful.

The sheriff of Eric County, New York, where the shooting took place, called it an act of “pure evil.”

It is that, but it’s hard to accept the fact that someone so young could arrive at a place so dark and do things that are so clearly, obviously, wrong.

Few people are born toxic. Hate is something they learn.

Someone — likely many people — stood by while this young man blew out, one by one, the moral lights that are supposed to guide us until he found himself in a place gloomy and ghastly, so filled with loathing that he decided to share his horror show with people he’d never even met.

In the aftermath of his journey into night, only grief, misery and death remain.

We will spend years trying to figure out exactly how this young man turned himself into an instrument of “pure evil”—and, most likely, whatever answers we find will not entirely address the question.

We, however, can and should address the issue of why we continue to allow people intent on committing acts of pure evil the easiest access possible to weapons that allow them to achieve their aims.

Doubtless, it was not this deluded young man’s intention to discredit the arguments advanced by the National Rifle Association and the firearms industry in defense of America’s lax gun laws, but that is exactly what he did.

It is the contention of the NRA and its foot soldiers that Americans cannot rely on police and other law-enforcement officials to defend them. That is why every American should be allowed to have a deadly weapon—because, in the NRA mythology, the good guy with a gun is the only answer to a bad guy with a gun.

In Buffalo, there was a good guy with a gun.

His name was Aaron Salter. He was 55 and a retired police lieutenant.

When the shooter entered the grocery store in western New York, Salter fired multiple shots at the attacker. All were ineffective, because the shooter was wearing body armor—which the NRA and gun merchants also fight to make readily available to all.

The good guy with the gun died.

The bad guy with the gun went on killing.

The carnage ended only when the police — the folks the gun lobby says can’t be trusted — arrived and forced the shooter to surrender.

The NRA fantasy that the more guns there are in untrained and, as has become increasingly clear, unstable hands the safer we will be is just that.

A fantasy.

But it is a deadly and corrosive one.

At least one truth that is rarely spoken in our national discussions about questions of policing and race is that law-enforcement officials have legitimate reasons to fear that any encounter they have could turn deadly.

In a nation with 5% of the world’s population and more than 50% of the world’s privately owned guns, officers’ concerns that anyone they stop could be carrying not just a weapon but an arsenal are not irrational.

Finding ways to keep guns out of the hands those who wish to inflict pure evil on others would make those officers’ lives easier — and many of our national and community problems less resistant to solutions.

But the NRA and its minions, here in Indiana and across the country, have added police officers to the list of voices not entitled to be heard when the discussion is about guns.

That’s the way it is when venom and poison enter the system.

The toxins warp the senses, cloud the mind … and, then, ultimately, destroy the heart.

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