The sights and stories from Parkland, Florida, have a sad familiarity.
We Americans now have seen so many pictures of families and communities battered by horror and grief. We had heard so many tales of terrified young people bearing more than children should be asked – no, forced – to bear.
We have witnessed so many – too, too many – mass shootings in our country.
In elementary schools.
In high schools.
On public streets.
On military bases.
Everywhere, it seems, here in America.
Every time, our response is the same. Shock surrenders to grief, which then yields to rage.
Our anger is intensified by our impotence, the sense that these tragedies are avoidable and yet at the same time inevitable, because of our determined evasion of moral responsibility.
It feels as if we are trapped in a nightmare from which we cannot awaken.
In this time of fury and confusion, the temptation is strong to lash out at the National Rifle Association, the gun manufacturers and merchants and the public officials awash in the flood tide of campaign contributions and dark money unleashed by the firearms lobby.
Lord knows, in this world and the next, these folks have and will have much for which they must answer.
But berating them, baiting them with evidence of their cash-laden complicity in horror and trying to shame them into doing the right thing is likely to achieve nothing more than a temporary venting of frustration, a momentary therapeutic release from a grief that seems to have no end.
In some ways, doing so fuels the frenzy and fantasy that fire their fears, the sense that they are alone, attacked and embattled in a hostile world and thus must cling to their weapons even more fiercely.
We won’t change our current reality by reinforcing their fantasies. We won’t chase away terror by stoking their fears.
I have talked, debated and argued with gun advocates for years. I have listened to them, and I have heard them.
However misguided and misinformed their view of the world is, their adherence to it is genuine. They believe what they believe, and not because someone has paid them to think or argue or vote that way.
For that reason, they hear only what they want or need to hear. They latch onto whatever crumb of misinformation plucked out of context confirms their faith that more guns mean more safety. They seize on whatever cry, however grief-soaked and unrealistic, for draconian gun policies as evidence that the real plan is to disarm and disenfranchise them, and they use that as renewed justification for their unyielding opposition to all attempts to grapple with senseless suffering.
This makes them impervious to the force that is supposed to animate our system of government, the gathering of facts that empower the process of reason.
So long as they continue to disregard information that does not support their beliefs or does not give flame to their fears, they cannot and will not be persuaded. They will remain beyond reason’s reach.
And we will remain trapped in this nightmare from which we cannot awaken.
That is why our grief must give way not to rage, but to thoughtful planning and action.
I talked once with former Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Chief Troy Riggs, himself a gun owner but one whose work and experience made him sensitive to the tragic consequences of this nation’s overabundance of privately owned firearms.
Riggs said, in effect, that we will not cure our national ailment by focusing on symptoms. We instead must look at causes.
We must ask ourselves, he said, why so many young people feel they need a firearm.
I would broaden that to say that we must ask why so many Americans feel they need not just one deadly weapon, but, in many cases, entire arsenals, just to feel secure.
Until we can plumb the depths of that fear, we will not solve this problem.
We will remain trapped in this nightmare.
And words will continue to fail.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.