Editor’s notebook: The rot in America’s soul

Second Amendment

There are many things I could write about the First Extraordinary Session of the 113th Tennessee General Assembly, called by Gov. Bill Lee ostensibly to address public safety.

I could write about the House’s restrictive rules package, or that Lee was missing in action, or the dysfunction between the Republican-dominated House and Senate.

But the issue on my mind is larger than all of these — larger than the Constitution, larger than the zero sum game of partisan politics.

As I reviewed the hundreds of photos taken by photojournalist John Partipilo over the eight-day session, I got hung up on one that depicted Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, and Rep. Todd Warner, R-Culleoka, standing to shout at each other and point fingers over a controversial bill that would permit active-duty military members, veterans and off-duty law enforcement officers to roam school grounds with firearms.

How in hell did we end up at a point in Tennessee, and America, at which we bicker about the use of ballistic glass on school doors and letting armed men and women roam the grounds of elementary schools?

We continue to focus on items that are unimportant. To quibble over measures like these is to focus on the speck in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own.

That we have no state or federal leaders willing to stand up and address a moral cancer has brought us to the point at which they would rather imprison children in schools with ballistic doors and fences and randos with guns on campus than dig into America’s epidemic of mass murder is amoral.

We have a rot in our collective national soul, and it extends to Tennessee.

For in what other country do residents routinely murder each other in groups, on a weekly, if not daily basis?

In no other country does this carnage occur. Our ”shining city upon a hill” is a blood-drenched charnel house, where bodies have piled up, corpse upon corpse, from Columbine to Newtown to Aurora to Parkland to Buffalo to Nashville to Jacksonville and to cities and towns across the country.

And what in God’s name are our elected officials doing to get to the root of this?

They preach the gospel of the Second Amendment. They take marching orders from the National Rifle Association and in Tennessee, the Tennessee Firearms Association — a small group with an outsized influence. They push packages advertising high-powered weaponry and shields for school resource officers, and use military terminology such as “hardening” schools.

Multi-approach white paper

These aren’t solutions. Yes, there are small changes that might — might — help alleviate these mass gun murders in the short term, including permitting extreme orders of protection and third-party dispossession, and limiting the sales of high capacity ammunition, to name a few.

It’s past time to take on the Second Amendment of the Constitution. The U.S. Constitution is a living document, and Congress has passed 27 amendments as American society changed since the country’s birth.

Let’s get some guts and start a movement to narrow the language, for as many other commentators and writers have noted, the nation’s founders couldn’t have conceived of the future we find ourselves in.

Yes, there is a national sickness in our soul, and it’s a sickness that has been at the heart of America for hundreds of years.

The nation has never fully addressed the legacy of genocide that is the thread running through our history. We have not grappled with how the practice of race-based slavery shaped our nation.

And still there are too many who deny its horrors: a Florida curriculum wants to teach that enslaved people gained skills they could use for their betterment, the latest iteration of the “slavery was good” racist theory. The stripping by the U.S. Supreme Court of affirmative action in college admissions decisions is a symptom and continuance of unhealed ills.

One doesn’t have to be particularly religious to recognize a universal power, and I wonder, in my heart, if the current national horror of mass violence is a response to America’s failure to reckon with all of our original sins: while there was a time without school shootings, America has never been without violence and murder, much of it accomplished with firearms.

On Monday, March 27, I left my office in downtown Nashville and drove 15 minutes to the Green Hills neighborhood to cover the Covenant School shooting. I had never considered what it might feel like to cover such a thing, but now I know. As removed as I was, I was full of rage the day after the shooting in a way I am unaccustomed to feeling. It pulsated in me. I felt the same rage as I watched Tennessee’s do-nothing legislature.

I remain angry, and I cannot keep a cool, journalistic face on my anger. People are needlessly dying due to gun violence across the U.S.

It is long past time for us to become physicians to our own illness, but until we — lawmakers, mothers and fathers, average Joe voters — use our anger and sadness for uncomfortable and harsh examinations into our national character, the cancer will metastasize. America will become sicker, and Americans will continue to die from gun violence.

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