The past week marked several significant milestones and events, all sharing a common theme:
Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which honors a man who led non-violent resistance to segregation and was murdered with a gun;
The second-term inauguration of Barack Obama, who's now seeking increased gun regulation in the wake of the Newtown school shooting;
The one-month anniversary of the Newtown shooting itself;
And oh, I almost forgot one more event: "Gun Appreciation Day," sponsored by the National Rifle Association. Their timing is purely coincidental, I'm sure. Aren't you?
At this point in my career I thought I was beyond being shocked at human behavior. But I was unready for the hostility and tone-deaf insensitivity of those who, one month after Newtown, seem more enraged by the tiniest effort at gun regulation than they are by the death of those 20 kids in Connecticut.
I keep hearing -- and desperately wanting to believe -- that the vast majority of gun owners, of which I am one, are immune to the gun lobby's paranoid insistence that the slightest regulation is the same thing as the government wanting to "take away all our guns."
But if social media is any guide, I frankly see less and less evidence of this every day.
Don't get me wrong. There is a coherent Constitutional argument to be made for unfettered personal access to firearms. But unfortunately almost no one is making that argument right now.
What we have now isn't so much a debate as a sick pathology acting out in real time. A month after a shooting in which 20 schoolchildren were shot dead -- most suffering multiple point-blank bullet wounds -- the NRA ran a web video calling Obama an "elitist hypocrite."
Why? Because an armed Secret Service detail protects Obama's children while their father seeks new gun regulations.
Got that? One month after 20 kids were butchered to death in Newtown, the NRA taunts the president of the United States to remove his kids' bodyguards. Real subtle, those NRA guys!
(They should actually give Obama a Lifetime Achievement award. He's done more to boost gun & ammo sales than anyone in history.)
Things actually get worse. You probably haven't heard of Gene Rosen, but the people of Newtown have. About 15 minutes after Adam Lanza began his shooting spree through Sandy Hook, the 69-year-old Rosen found himself sheltering six kids who somehow escaped the carnage and huddled at the end of his driveway.
In graphic proof of the old saying "no good deed goes unpunished," Rosen's reward was to become the target of a vicious internet campaign alleging he participated in an elaborate conspiracy to stage the shooting so the federal government could "take away our guns."
Rosen gets threats, accusations, phone calls, e-mails. A photo of his house has been posted online. Rosen happens to be Jewish, so a portion of the accusations involve references to his faith and ethnicity.
"I don't know what to do," Rosen told Salon.com. "There must be some way to morally shame these people, because there were 20 dead children lying an eighth of a mile from my window all night long."
Thing is, you can't morally shame someone incapable of feeling shame. You can't reach someone already beyond the bounds of basic human decency.
The NRA was once one of America's most level-headed organizations, stressing gun safety and responsible gun ownership. But over the past couple of decades, the smell of money and the ease with which politicians can be bought with it has led them to form an unholy trinity with the gun industry and the right wing media, all profiting from paranoia.
Their propaganda has been so effective that millions of gun owners now fervently believe that any gun control measure, no matter how common-sense and modest, always equals an attempt to "come and take our guns away."
These days that old line is making quite a comeback, the line about guns being taken only when they're pried out of the owner's "cold dead hands." But the only cold dead hands I'm seeing belong to the victims of guns, not to their owners.
Ludicrously, some people now compare themselves to brave Minutemen battling the British monarchy, striking a blow against tyranny, defending the Constitution to the death, etc. Some openly call for "another civil war" if any of Obama's small, incremental proposals for new gun regulation are enacted.
(Speaking of "Minutemen," I can't help but think that any actual act of armed rebellion against the U.S. government in the year 2013, no matter how well-equipped or well-organized, would likely have a lifespan about that long.)
I feel sure that the freedom fighters who secured American independence, in whose name so much perfidy is committed today, would fail to understand why two centuries later we've done so little to protect our most precious asset, our children.
They might ask why they bothered fighting at all.