I was 8 years old the first time I saw the American flag displayed at half-staff. It was 1963, and President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated, shot to death. I recall gazing with a troubled demeanor at the flag flying low, praying I'd never have to see again the sight of our nation's flag lowered in sadness.
I still think of that sight from time to time, and of that troubled feeling. Since that time, when I again behold the sight of the flag flying at half-staff, I experience a moment of brief panic; Has the president been assassinated? Is America at war?
Then, modern reality returns, and I remember that the flag is usually flying low because it's just another day in a country where the gun culture has gotten way, way out of control.
Recently it happened again: a shooting in school, two children wounded, a heroic teacher shot to death, protecting the students.
The National Rifle Association usually points to the First Amendment and tries to bully us into believing that our constitutional right is guaranteed for a citizen of the United States to bear almost any arms short of nuclear weapons. And that the solution to the problem is not fewer guns, but more.
What the NRA forgets is that our country was founded by decent, intelligent men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. Had these men imagined a need for our citizens to carry such tools of mass destruction as assault weapons or machine guns, they'd have gone into their workshops and invented them.
We can display the American flag at half-staff permanently, not because we can be assured that gun violence will oblige us to lower our national symbol again almost as soon as we raise it, but because we've allowed our sense of national decency to be bullied away by the NRA.