The fact we're not surprised that a deranged gunman killed 26, then himself, in Connecticut on Friday may not be the principal horror, but one worth considering. Such occurrances seem inevitable now; not a question of "if," but of "when." Even in bucholic Iowa, where we've been relatively lucky so far.
Iowa seems to specialize in armed sons, brothers and other male kinfolk who gun down family members at the dinner table or while abed because of greed or imagined offenses.
It is necessary to go back to 1991, when University of Iowa graduate student Gang Lu shot five to death in Iowa City allegedly because of his own academic disappointments to find something comparable. Or to look next door to Omaha, where a gunman killed eight at Westroads Mall during 2007. We may have time to deflect what increasingly seems unavoidable.
My Facebook feed and e-mail box have been filled with calls for prayer --- for the victims, their families and the community where the shootings occurred. That's fine. But it's useful to remember that if we have the courage of our convictions, we also believe that a loving God does not need to be nudged by our prayers into comforting the afflicted.
Nor that, if we pray for peace and an end to violence, God will impose it. We are the instruments. A substantial percentage of those prayers should be for ourselves, petitioning for the wisdom, courage and the fortitude needed to become instruments of peace. Then for support as we go out and become.
As others have pointed out, understanding and offering care to the mentally ill is a part of that "becoming." Those who argue that "guns don't kill, people do," are half right. People do, and in the majority of instances, perhaps universally when mass shootings are involved, the shooters are deranged.
But mental health remains one of the most neglected areas of comprehensive care. Too many still believe mental illness is more of a personal weakness than a biological affliction, that it can be willed or prayed away. Or are so shamed by their own degree of madness, or that of those they know and love, they are unwilling to ask for help.
The mental health safety net in Iowa, and elsewhere, is a disgrace.
And we certainly live in a shoot-em-up gun culture, something perhaps more evident to outsiders than it is to ourselves. Random acts of violence occur in all cultures, but we specialize in them, in part because we view guns as solutions, rather than as tools and dangerous toys, elevating firearms in some circles to iconic status.
Part of the blame rests on organizations like the National Rifle Association, which dissipates its usefulness as an advocate for sportspeople and an educator in the field of responsible gun ownership and use by playing the power game and elevating the mythic right to bear arms to near-religious status among the fearful, angry and/or misinformed.
Relatively few want to disarm hunters and, at the moment, insufficient numbers want to take advanced weapons away from those who enjoy playing with or fondling them in a responsible manner. That most likely will change as it has in nearly all other Western nations. If it does, the excesses of the NRA and its band of true believers will bear primary responsibility.