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Getting mad about it won’t help

Can’t decide whether to worry about eroding democracy or mass shootings? Why not both?

The mug shots of James and Jennifer Crumbley, who allegedly gave their son Ethan the gun he used to kill four people at his high school in Oxford, Mich.
The mug shots of James and Jennifer Crumbley, who allegedly gave their son Ethan the gun he used to kill four people at his high school in Oxford, Mich. last week. A reminder to take the concerns of teachers seriously.
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Anger is ephemeral.

Whoops, big word, sorry. Anger, it passes quickly.

If you let it, that is. Many people hold onto anger. They sulk and are bitter.

Here, time can help. An hour passes and you’re a different person. That’s why, when I can, I try to write these columns, then, before sending them to my editor, set them aside a bit. To cool.

Saturday I snarled one out that ... well, the headline will give you the idea: “Let’s all stop voting and shoot each other.” It was a never-published mashup of anxiety over American democracy falling apart and horror over the latest school shooting.

Not a bad column, mind you, in my biased estimation. It does come charging out of the blocks:

Maybe I’ve got this all wrong. Regarding both democracy AND guns.

All this handwringing about elections, it’s so 2020. Nobody really believes in voting anymore.

To my right, Republicans, faces red from screaming how amazingly well-run elections are actually fraudulent, ‘cause they lost, kneecapping the mechanics of voting across the country, so they won’t look so lame trying to steal the next one.

Meanwhile, in case I’m tempted to get into a partisan snit, we’ve got Democrats, particularly in Illinois, double that in Chicago, who recognize the unfortunate reality of one person/one vote, but then turn blue concocting these gerrymandered jigsaw maps to guarantee those votes are diffused, so those in power — aka themselves — stay in power. Chicago can’t have more Hispanic wards simply because there are more Hispanic voters. That’s craaaaazeeeee ...

So far, so good. A point is made, riding that plague-on-both-your-houses hobbyhorse we moderate pundits enjoy straddling.

Then I veer into the ditch:

Maybe we need to do what the rest of the world does, now and throughout history: arm up, divide into factions and start shooting each other. We seem halfway there already.

That’s enough of that. I went on to spout these Modest Proposal violent suggestions that I then immediately have to claw back. In the calm of Sunday, I figure: so many angry people already. Why be one more?

Puffing away the steam, I see the problem: it’s the Crumbleys — Thomas Pynchon could not have dreamt up a better name — the Michigan parents who, it is alleged, bought a Sig Sauer for their 15-year-old son as an early Christmas present, then snickered off the alarms his teachers raised about the teen doing an internet search for ammunition and threatening to shoot people, which he is accused of doing last Tuesday. Four classmates were killed.

It’s one of those horror stories that cuts through the normalized carnival of insanity that is American life today, hooks two fingers into the nostrils of parents and pulls us along, agog that anybody could behave that way.

Guns. The difference between temporary teenage rage and permanent community tragedy. Anger passes. Killing people doesn’t. Not that ultimate responsibility lies in inert metal. There are 400 million guns in America; somebody must be handling them properly. Otherwise, we’d all be dead. Maybe that’s coming.

When my boys were about Ethan Crumbley’s age, they too became interested in guns. So I got my Illinois FOID card and took them shooting at a local range. It was fun. Had they taken a liking to the practice, I might have bought a gun as a dad-and-lad bonding device. But the guns were loud, even with ear protection, and one visit satisfied them. So I’m not against guns, handled responsibly.

Handled irresponsibly, people die and, it is hoped, go to jail. Is it too soon to look down the road and wonder how the Crumbley saga will play out? Maybe Kyle Rittenhouse is still stalking in the back of my mind, assault rifle high against his chest. But I have to wonder: will the guns-are-my-Lord types find a way to shape-shift and embrace the Crumbleys? Maybe they’ll imagine the teen’s classmates threatened him, and the pricey legal talent attracted by the millions that guns-give-meaning-to-my-empty-life crew collect will convince a jury. Maybe they’ll all walk, smirking. In a world where nothing is true, anything is possible.

You don’t need to be Nostradamus to see Donald Trump, triumphantly re-elected in 2024, immediately pardoning all three Crumbleys, welcoming them to the White House.

You can see why people are angry. Fear and frustration will do that. As bad as the Trump administration — whoops, the first Trump administration — was, the terrible possibility is, things could still get a lot worse.