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Gun Violence and America’s Hard Truth

by on October 05, 2017 5:00 AM


In the wake of another unexplained mass shooting in the United States it is time to hear a hard truth. It will anger people on both sides, but that is the point. Most real progress in this country left people on both sides with something to be angry about. As someone who believes in the possibility of hope in the future, this column is hard to write. The way we are governed, dawn’s first rays will never break the long nightmare of America’s gun violence.

After every mass shooting in America, we react with horror and outrage but we stopped being shocked years ago. In some neighborhoods the sound of gunfire is so common it’s become part of the soundtrack of life. Those daily shootings barely draw our attention.

There is a hard truth America must face. For some it is a constant threat while others will never see it. But when you come face to face with the business end of a gun you will know that truth.

In America every day we live from sunrise to see another sunset, we do so because we didn’t cross paths with someone who decided to take our life. The contagion of life-taking firepower exists and has spread to the hands of people all over this country. If slavery was our nation’s original sin, gun violence is the addiction we may never shake. Part of treating addiction is the realization that you have a problem.

Las Vegas is just the latest in a string of recent mass shootings. These events have names that speak to a nation’s pain: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Orlando, Charleston…. the list goes on and on.

While these tragedies may speak to us, we are not listening. After every horrifying event people on all sides of the gun and mental health issues speak their minds. Nothing changes. Then they return to their respective corners to collect their lobbying or consulting checks and wait eagerly for the bell to ring again.

And when once again the bell tolls we bury the dead, we seek the peaceful unity of tearful vigils and moments of silence that ends in bitter shouting matches on policy. While an assassin’s bullets rip holes in the hearts and souls of victims and their families, the rest of us offer thoughts and prayers and move on with our lives.

Some have said “that’s the price of a free society.”

But understand in America the day of reckoning for any of us could be right around the corner. Elementary schoolrooms in Pennsylvania and Connecticut were the scene of brutal murders of young children. Even now on street corners kids are caught in the crossfire of violent shootouts.

Is that a price of freedom we are willing to pay?

Amid all our talk of exceptionalism, freedom and Second Amendment rights, the hard truth remains. From both sides it draws slick but fiery rhetoric aimed at some idealized world that we want.

With hundreds of millions or weapons in circulation, guns are a reality in America. For those who want a gun control utopia, there is no way to create a control structure that can make us all safe. For those who fear a vast government conspiracy taking away all of the guns, that is a paranoid fantasy promoted by fear-mongering special interests.

Certainly the voices of those lost demand that we try to find a place of middle ground to make us all safer.

But both sides seem reluctant to even tolerate talk about the smallest of compromise. Instead we grasp onto the wooden talking-point planks of our political cowardice to keep from drowning in the storm surge of American blood spilled each year. Again some maintain that surge is the price we must pay for our free society.

The price for our society is a check we are all willing to have drawn on someone else’s account until freedom’s bill collector knocks on our door.

And there, America, is the hard truth. The hour and the moment may only be known to God. But there is another loner hiding in plain sight. That person may live down the street, across town or across the country but that person is lurking. That person is haunted by pain or mental issues or guided by a hateful ideology.

And when that person acts, we will go through the same tired routine of outrage and defensive reaction on social media. The lobbyists will up their game and dole out more money. Families will mourn and those who survive will live forever haunted by fear and pain that no amount of time will ever completely ease or make them forget.

So when you wake tomorrow and find yourself and your loved ones still here, be thankful that America’s hard truth has yet to find you, to scar your existence forever.

How I wish somewhere existed hope’s beacon of courageous leadership lighting our way past the shoals to make real decisions of compromise that could take this hard truth away. But how many times can we hear the dirges of death’s dance in America, ignore real dialogue, change nothing and expect a different result in our society?



State College native and Penn State graduate Jay Paterno is a father, husband and political volunteer. He’s a frequent guest lecturer on campus and at Penn State events and was the longtime quarterbacks coach for the Nittany Lions. His column appears every other Thursday. Follow him on Twitter at
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