America's latest mass shooting, in which 12 victims were gunned down at the Washington Navy Yard by a killer who also lost his life, is another stomach-turning episode in the life of the nation.
While the government operates a sophisticated surveillance program in which every citizen's phone records can be inspected to protect the country from foreign threats, the nation is powerless against a lone deranged American who will use guns to speak for himself.
Many questions will be answered in the days ahead about the motive and conduct of Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old employee of a military contractor, and the weapons he used in Monday's shooting.
On Tuesday, news reports were changing on the guns Alexis used in the attack. Initial reports said that he fired an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a handgun taken from a police officer at the scene. Later in the day, The Associated Press said the gunman carried an AR-15, but did not fire it -- instead using a shotgun and two handguns grabbed from officers.
Another question must be addressed by the military. Should Alexis have had security clearance to enter the Navy Yard despite the pattern of misbehavior he displayed, with both civilian and military authorities, before his early, yet honorable, discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2001? Reports portray him as a man with anger management issues who let guns do the talking in incidents for which he was arrested in 2004 and 2010.
Until more of the facts are known, it is difficult to see whether better gun laws could have averted this tragedy. Meanwhile, this remains a nation awash in arms and firepower beyond the needs of any hunter, sportsman or person seeking protection.
If nothing else, the Aaron Alexis case demonstrates the sorrowful toll that can result when an explosive personality gets quick access to guns. In a culture where that access is made exceptionally easy, where sensible limits are denounced as threats to the Second Amendment and where lawmakers are too spineless to balance the right to bear arms with the need to be secure, the next mass shooting is just a matter of time.