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In January, a friend invited me out to his farm in western Nebraska to hunt. He’s a very good conservationist. He leaves habitat intact for the waterfowl, with sufficient space for their movement and rest.

It was a pretty good hunt on that cold Nebraska morning. As we were nearing the finish, a goose appeared flying south, just in range. It was a long shot and the bird was moving fast. I had missed enough to know that I needed to be way out in front. So, I put my 12-gauge to the shoulder, took about a two-to-three-bird length lead, and pulled. The goose came down across two river channels on an island, and it was a big one.

That 12-gauge Remington shotgun was given to me on my 14th birthday by my mother a long time ago. I never asked, but I’ve wondered if it was her way of passing on an important tradition after my father’s death. A rite of passage for a young man.

For most Nebraskans, especially in farm country, guns are an integrated part of habits of culture. We use them for sport, for pleasure, and, if necessary, to protect ourselves and families. Not everyone is comfortable with them, but most everyone respects the right to responsible gun ownership.

While, statistically, violent crime and gun-related deaths have substantially dropped over the last 20 years, this is small comfort in the wake of another mass shooting brought on by a twisted individual’s desire to kill.

The anguish, heartbreak—and anger—of the families and the Florida community so violently ripped apart by this catastrophe are made even more real for those of us with high school children. A culture of violence is upon us, and it strikes those who have no guilt, who have no fault, who simply became a convenient target for someone else’s bloodlust.

The need for a national response is understandably pointed to Congress. With the initial call by President Trump, perhaps a necessary review of the background check system can achieve consensus, along with a multi-dimensional national response to mental health issues. I do not believe that a 19-year-old with a substantial history of scrapes with the law and a log book of violent behavioral issues should be able to obtain an AR-15.

Congress should robustly address the issues at stake, but also resist politicizing responsible gun ownership as part of a serious national discussion on the root causes of violence. I remain wary that we can fully surveil, legislate, or weaponize ourselves out of this conundrum. Instead, at this time of mourning and anger, maybe we can finally take a look at the root cultural fragmentation and discounting of life that is creating the conditions for the normalization of violence.

Part of this is a frank national discussion about the glorification of death in media and entertainment; industries that profit from sick imagery, and then sanctimoniously preach at us in times of tragedy. Add to this the disintegration of community and its authority to correct and guide, as well as the loss of formative institutions of family life and faith life. Our disposable culture weakens our ties and the responsibility to be good stewards of things and to others.

As much as we try, we seem unable to achieve a coordinated response by medicine, law, and social services to the problems around us. Aimless, sick, and unleashed, a 19-year-old turns to killing.


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