We await the advice from the NRA to start packing heat.

Every time there’s another mass shooting somewhere in America, the National Rifle Association recommends that more people carry guns all the time. In their fevered dreams, a killer walks through the door and we all jump up and blow him away.

EDITORIAL

We’re pretty sure that real public safety depends on a social contract that’s a little more sophisticated than a Mad Max movie, with everybody armed to the teeth, so we’ll decline any suggestion that our reporters and editors start carrying weapons.

But there is no doubt that, for the Chicago Sun-Times and every media company, the murder of four journalists and a staffer on Thursday at a newspaper in Annapolis, Md., hit disturbingly close to home. Every newspaper that’s doing its job draws the ire of a certain number of unhinged people, though the danger might never seem real — until it is.

We feel a kinship with every journalist who dies in the line of duty, just as every police officer feels a bond with every cop who is killed. More than 1,300 journalists around the world have been killed since 1992; every one of them was our sister or brother.

Our hearts, and a pledge of solidarity, go out to the families of the victims of the attack at the Capital Gazette. And we would like to honor them here simply by stating their names, a kind of last byline:

Gerald Fischman, 61. He was the editorial page editor, and he always wore a tie and cardigan.

Rob Hiaasen, 59. He was an editor and features columnist, a gifted writer who mentored younger reporters.

John McNamara, 56. He was a long-time sports writer and editor, the author of two books about University of Maryland sports.

Rebecca Smith, 34. She was a sales assistant, new to a media business that she found she liked, and she had plans to marry.

Wendi Winters, 65. She started as a freelancer covering local news, but the paper had to hire her because she was so productive.

Victims of the shooting in Annapolis, Maryland, from left: Assistant Editor and Columnist Rob Hiaasen, Editorial Page Editor Gerald Fischman, writer John McNamara, Special Publications Editor Wendi Winters and Rebecca Smith. | AFP PHOTO / Capital Gazette / Family Photo via Batimore Sun

While the murder of these good men and women has stirred our sense of solidarity with journalists everywhere, it has also pulled us closer in our heartache to the victims of all the past mass shootings in America. We have, as a profession, become a part of the story we cover.

We can’t pretend to say we understand all the causes of one mass murder after another, but we’re more sure than ever that anybody can be a target, and no place is immune. On Thursday, it was a newspaper office. In the recent past, it has been nightclubs, movie theaters, college campuses, business offices, post offices, a military base, churches and schools — always schools.

Where next?

We do know this: Our nation suffers from a historical myth that guns won the West and, to this day, keep us safe and free. In truth, farmers, cowboys, gold diggers, merchants, school teachers, railroad barons and all the others who settled this country (Native Americans would take exception to the word “win.”) — hardly ever picked up a gun or fired a shot except to hunt.

The glory of the gun is largely the stuff of Hollywood, promoted by the likes of the NRA to make money off human suffering.

As a nation, we have too many guns. We recently spent a month chronicling this — and all the problems that go along with it — with a campaign called ’31 bullets.’ You can read more from us on that at 31bullets.suntimes.com.

Besides that, we are too angry and divided as a nation. It’s a bad combination, made worse by a president who eggs it on.

From what we know so far, the alleged killer in Annapolis was mentally unstable, seething with resentments and delusions going back years. Newspapers come across such people all the time.

It would be a terrible mistake, though, to dismiss Thursday’s slaughter as the work of just another nut, as if none of the rest of us bear responsibility. Other countries have their random nuts, but they don’t have our parade of mass murderers.

Nor do they have our 300 million guns, or a gun lobby that feeds off myths and fears.

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