Could it be that America simply is getting meaner?
That the light at the end of the tunnel is really an on-rushing semi?
Well, yes, it could be:
Susan White-Bowden, 55, is well-known for her work with children and charities, her books, her good humor, her many acts of kindness, and her 22 years as a TV reporter and anchor in Baltimore.
And when a gun control group asked her to come to Washington to testify before a congressional subcommittee recently, she did so even though she is not anti-gun.
"I grew up in a family that kept guns for trapshooting, hunting and target practice," she said. "I am not against guns.
"But when you keep a gun in the home, children in the home are more likely to be harmed than an outside intruder. My only message is that people who have guns in the home are putting their children in possible danger."
As she well knows. Her ex-husband kept a handgun in the house, but when he moved out the gun stayed behind. On Nov. 20, 1974, he came back, they argued, he went upstairs, got the gun and killed himself.
Susan White-Bowden got rid of that gun, but she didn't give a second thought to the rifles and shotguns in the house.
"They were on a gun rack in the den," she said. "They were like draperies on a window: I didn't even see them anymore. I grew up as a country girl. Guns were not weapons of destruction; they were tools."
On May 9, 1977, her 17-year-old son, Jody, having problems with his girlfriend, went to the gun rack, took down a rifle and killed himself.
Susan White-Bowden, who still lives in the same home and has six grandchildren living nearby, no longer keeps guns around the house. And her grandchildren know they must park even their toy guns at the kitchen door before coming in.
"My only message is an awareness message," she said. "It is about the danger of mixing guns and kids."
Which is what she told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime on March 31. Her testimony was carried live on C-SPAN and it was very touching. "I would die at a robber's hands six times over rather than put in danger any of those children," she said.
She spoke for about 10 minutes and afterward Rep. Steven H. Schiff, a Republican from New Mexico, came up and told her that even though he was pro-gun, he did not keep guns around his home for the very reasons she had talked about.
And that was it. The whole message. Mild. Moderate. Reasonable.
The letter arrived at her home a few days later. Her address had been carried by C-SPAN.
The letter was written in black ink on two sheets torn from a loose-leaf notebook. It was signed, possibly with a false name, and came from Seneca, Mo., a tiny town on the border with Oklahoma. It read:
"Little Susie, boo-hoo, boo-hoo. Enjoyed your crying liberal performance on C-SPAN -- we laughed all thru lunch.
"Don't you do gooders ever see how foolish you are??? The only way to save this country is to FIGHT back. Too bad about your [child], but some adult was a fool -- at least the poor thing won't have to be around to hear your nonsense & be exposed to your liberal insanity.
"The shame is that a fool such as you is even allowed to reproduce -- idiots such as you should be sterilized when your first liberal nonsense and cries are noticed.
"You are what has [caused] this country to degenerate into a whine bag, limp-wristed sack of liberal goo [deleted]. You babies who want Uncle Sam to hold your hand and take care of you from cradle to grave are not fit to live in the HOME OF THE BRAVE.
"Do us all a favor, go and learn how to use a handgun, load it, and try to blow away your pea-sized brain -- better yet, aim for the heart -- you have no brain."
Susan White-Bowden called and read me the letter. "I can't imagine that somebody loves guns that much to feel so threatened by what I had to say," she said. "It would seem obvious to anyone watching me on C-SPAN that I had been hurt enough."
But in America today you can never hurt someone enough. From words to guns to bombs, the desire to inflict greater and greater pain courses through our land.
"I just hope this man never, ever has to feel the pain that I've gone through and my family has gone through as a result of guns," Susan White-Bowden said.
Me, I kind of hope he does.