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Thursday, December 8, 2016

“One of the worst days in the history of our country,” my friend Dan Kennedy wrote on Facebook. “The worst day since 9/11.”

My sentiments exactly. If you’re like most people, they’re probably yours as well.

Very likely, the rest of us will never know — much less comprehend — the Newtown, CT school shooter’s motives. The word itself implies a coherence alien to a diseased mind.

Twenty first-graders. Do his motives even matter?

Having some knowledge of mental illness, when I first heard that the Newtown killer’s weapons—a Bushmaster .223 caliber assault rifle, a pair of 9mm semi-automatic handguns, and hundreds of bullets—were registered to his mother, I imagined I knew the story: a divorced, middle-aged suburban housewife, isolated, captive to her son’s madness, handicapped by weak laws and an inadequate mental health system, and frantically bargaining with his advancing psychosis to buy peace.

Hoping that things would magically change.

But it turns out that I was wrong. The guns that ended Nancy Lanza’s life in her own bed indeed belonged to her. Living alone in semi-isolation with a troubled teenaged son she kept at home because the stresses of school were more than he could handle, she adopted the least sensible hobby imaginable.

She became a gun collector and avid target shooter, and she took her son along. Something of a mathematical whiz with a loner’s passion for computers and videogames, he probably took to the mechanical precision of expensive, semi-automatic weapons.

Alas, he took to the darker aspects of the American gun cult as well.

Look, target shooting is one thing; a harmless, somewhat dorky pastime like bowling or showing thoroughbred dogs. I own a target pistol myself, and take it out sometimes to plink aluminum cans and the occasional cedar fence post. I also own shotguns, although I no longer hunt.

Out in the Arkansas boondocks where I live, guns are a practical necessity for several reasons—self-defense among them. Most men and a fair proportion of women are deer hunters. We hear gunshots all the time. Even the dogs and horses pretty much ignore them.

There was even a killing at Christmas a couple of miles down the road three years ago. I knew the shooter somewhat, and have never heard anything bad about him. As told around the county, it was a deal where a meth addict vowed mayhem if his girlfriend took her child to see his father. He texted death threats.

Call the sheriff and maybe they’ll send somebody within the hour.

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