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Commentary: Is society just kicking the can down the road?

I went to a toy store this past weekend in accord with my traditional last-minute Christmas shopping efficiency. I found a nifty model airplane for the 6-year-old boy and a scrapbook kit for his sister, 8. Some Dr. Seuss for the younger kids.

The store was full of shoppers. We were exchanging ideas. An awestruck father described what he called his son’s genius at building things. The boy transforms boxes of wooden blocks, duct tape and cardboard into Bay Bridge-like structures. I bought some of those blocks.

On Sunday, we heard a trumpet and organ recital at the Walters Art Museum. J.S. Bach’s majesty filled the room. Classical Greek figures watched over us. A massive rose-colored font stood behind the portable organ.

A moment of serenity to leaven the frenzy.

How we needed it. Like the rest of the nation, I couldn’t stop thinking about the shootings in Newtown, Conn. Parents of the 20 kids killed there had probably done their shopping. They’d probably been planning a carol sing or a movie for the weekend. Now they were wondering what to do with the presents they’d hidden away.

All of these events provoked, but did not dislodge, the images of anguish: A father mad with grief, children walking out of school with their eyes closed lest they see dead schoolmates, the president brushing away tears.

On Sunday evening, he spoke to the nation. He would put all the power of his office to work in search of safety for our surviving children. He seemed almost to apologize for suggesting that something must be done. Do we have a choice, he wondered. Even after the latest 20 innocents and six of their teachers, the question had to be asked, I suppose. But hadn’t similar provocations faded with no action?

I struggle against this conclusion: We have accepted a world in which the odd massacre is inevitable. Just the way it is. We are a society that has decided this sort thing is a price we must pay for the right to bear arms, for ambient guns, concealed-carry laws; for political power that has made discussion of the issue a nonstarter.

Reporters and law enforcement officials scramble to find out why the shooter did it. Surely, they must.

But there’s another important question: Why do we allow it? Without trying to stop it? Without even talking about it?

Neither presidential candidate, including the now-stricken Obama, gave the gun issue much time during the recent campaign. Was that a good thing? Many Americans, one study shows, stepped up their gun purchasing even before Sandy Hook. More guns is the answer for some.

Others will say there is no answer. “Nothing can be done” is becoming our all-purpose verdict.

Global warming, political gridlock, public places as free-fire zones are things we have to live with. We used to be a can-do society. We are becoming a kick-the-can-down-the-road society.

Will more heartbreak make a difference? The image, again, is haunting, but maybe hope is alive: Our president asks us to think about it:

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

Not me. If we don’t speak up, Sandy Hook will be more proof of our willingness to tolerate mass killing.

I want my grandson to build his plane. I want my granddaughter to make a scrapbook she can pass on to her daughter. I want to read “The Cat in the Hat” to the little ones.

C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst at WYPR-FM. His column appears Fridays. His email address is fsmith@wypr.org. A version of this column originally appeared in The (Baltimore, Md.) Daily Record, sister publication to The Daily Record.

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