Add 12 dead and 59 injured, at last count, to the toll of Americans whose lives have been ended or interrupted by this country's obsession with firearms and glorified violence.
The latest mass killing — individuals die from gunfire on America's streets every day — took place at a movie theater in a Denver suburb, Aurora, not too far from the infamous 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton.
The alleged shooter, James Eagan Holmes, a 24-year-old University of Colorado graduate school dropout, was said to be armed with tear gas, sophisticated explosives, a high-powered rifle, a shotgun and two pistols. Police said today that he had been planning this for months.
The Aurora massacre and the growing list of others like it are especially tragic not least because they, or at least some of them, might have been prevented. If this nation wasn't awash in firearms that are efficient mass killers, easily accessible to just about any whack job who wants to buy an arsenal, Thursday in Aurora might have been just another night at the movies.
America is an enormous country with a diverse population, a violent history and even today, a frontier mentality. We have a devotion to individual rights that in all but a few areas, such as guns, serves us well. Gun violence is no stranger. The country is one huge firearms market open 24/7 with few stringent controls on what can be sold and to whom.
Our political class is in thrall to the special-interest gun lobby that opposes even the most reasonable restraints. The nation's courts take extremist, pro-gun rights positions at the expense of the public's safety.
Unfortunately, there will be more Auroras, more Columbines, more Tucsons, more Virginia Techs, more Roosevelt coffee shops — more massacres — until Americans rise up and demand to be protected.
We have lost our sense of community, of oneness. Our deep partisanship over public policy issues — taxation, environmental regulation, and yes, gun control — is spilling over into a nation split into camps. Not only are the people we disagree with wrong about policy issues, they're wrong about life. They are the other.
We've been here before. In the years before the Civil War, the growing divide in the country played out violently in many corners of the nation long before war broke out. In 1856, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks nearly killed Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner on the Senate floor for a perceived insult over slavery. It was just the most high-profile example of a society increasingly at war with itself.
So are we helpless to stop ourselves from going down that same path? In truth, this will not be the last time someone's tenuous grasp on sanity gives way and they seek the limelight with an act of horrific destruction. One thing we know for certain is that killers at Columbine and Virginia Tech and the Aurora movie theater had lost their capacity for compassion, their gene for empathy. You cannot slaughter with impunity if you feel the pain of your victims.
We can push back with a determined effort to be more compassionate, more considerate, more civil people.