What kind of man — or teenage boy, for all we know — kills a young father in front of his children? Is that some sadistic idea that came from a video game, or did the shooter think of that on his own?
I need to go over this to make sure I’ve not become numb to the incessant news of violence in Baltimore, as the seventh straight year of 300-plus homicides comes to a close.
According to police, some hooded and masked thug walked up to 34-year-old Jake Rogers Thursday morning and shot him while Rogers was helping his three children into a minivan in front of his house in the Waltherson neighborhood. A neighbor heard gunshots and children screaming.
Imagine the effect this will have on those kids — seeing their father shot, then falling dead on the front lawn.
Guns are everywhere — in the hands of the angry and the violent, the stupid and the cruel, the mentally ill and the suicidal. Guns are in the hands of calculating killers and impulsive idiots.
I keep thinking of those three children.
On Saturday, two other children were traumatized. Their father shot his former girlfriend inside a house in South Baltimore, then drove his BMW, with the children in the back seat, to Columbia to shoot his ex-wife. The father made an appearance on Facebook between killings. He ended the horror by shooting himself. Fortunately, he did not shoot the children, but he undoubtedly harmed them.
Guns make settling scores easy for cowards: Just point and squeeze, and all your antagonisms go away. Turn it on yourself and your misery ends. But suicide causes far more pain than it relieves.
Think of those children in the back seat.
Then, on Monday, Baltimore County police told us about a murder-suicide in Timonium, another husband-wife horror. Police believe the husband went into the master bedroom where his wife was sleeping with one of their three children. He shot the wife, then told the child to leave the room. Moments later, the children in the house heard a second gunshot.
Think of those kids.
And it’s not just here. It’s everywhere. Homicides by gun are spiking across the country, in small cities and large cities and in suburban communities, and for every killing there are multiple victims of trauma, including children.
People worry these days that the nation will collapse in civil war, but in terms of gunfire and death, we’re already well into one. Americans have been killing each other at an alarming rate for decades. The whole country has been traumatized by now. Not all of us, of course, and not directly. But even indirectly, there’s a psychological cost. Just thinking about a fellow Baltimorean being shot while helping his children into a minivan creates a palpable level of trauma. Living in a country where mass shootings are commonplace, where the news of shootings is constant — that’s a subliminal trauma no one has measured yet.
You can try to block it out, but it’s hard to escape the fact that there’s so much killing around us. Violence is atmospheric in the United States.
People — those who actually acknowledge this reality — immediately fall into questions of law and policy and the who’s-to-blame for school shootings and domestic killings. But the problem is much bigger than the usual suggested remedies.
The country certainly needs changes in laws that might reduce the easy access to guns and even the number of guns.
But what America needs is a transformational awakening in the spiritual realm — facing the awful reality that there’s too much needless death from guns and resolving as a moral imperative to do something about it.
I know: If that didn’t happen after the deaths of first graders at Sandy Hook, when will it ever come? And from where?
That question goes right to the heart of this complex problem — the lack of moral leadership and unifying voices in a country that has splintered into factions. It seems hopeless.
But if we walk away, the killing will continue and get even worse. So, it needs to be said: The spiritual transformation begins when Americans break from our own history and vow to be nonviolent and turn away from guns even when surrounded by guns.
How does that happen?
Change of this scale in a country this large needs to be seeded with big money. In the name of national security — that is, making the nation safer — we take a few billion dollars from the defense budget, combined with billions more in philanthropy, for a long messaging campaign to get families to eliminate violence from their lives — in the movies they watch, in the video games they play, in how parents speak to each other and to their children.
If that sounds trite, just keep in mind: There is no anti-violence messaging to match and counter all the violent messaging that infests our culture. It would be like having a national anti-litter campaign again, a taxpayer-supported effort toward a better country.
We need therapy on-demand for the masses. We need to move more billions from national defense to recruit an army of social workers to counsel people at all levels of risk of harming or killing others. Maybe then more Americans would embrace peace and reject violence as an answer to their problems. Maybe then more Americans would melt their guns.
All in favor of a less violent country, please raise your hands.