“At least four other toddlers in the U.S. found guns and fatally shot themselves last week.”

In the seven days that ended Tuesday, in addition to the death of Ms. Price, a 3-year-old in Georgia, a 3-year-old in Louisiana, a 2-year-old in Missouri and a 2-year-old in Indiana fatally shot themselves; a 4-year-old in Texas shot and wounded a family member; a 16-year-old in California killed a 14-year-old friend in a shooting that officials called accidental; a 15-year-old in Texas accidentally shot and wounded a 16-year-old friend; and a 13-year-old in Indiana accidentally shot and wounded herself. –NYTimes

The news reads like dispatches from some terrible dystopia, a darkly comic novel of Saunders-like horror, the national epidemic of toddler suicide. It’s a surreal thrum of agony, this story of a land numbed by TV but flooded with cheap weaponry. The madness is anesthetized by politics and dim 18th-century chestpounding. It should be fiction, but it is news.It is the wire service from Hell, with each clause dryly containing immeasurable sadness.

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Read more about a gnawing national madness…

What all these children did to themselves and others was accidental, and in the case of the very young, “accident” didn’t even seem to apply; they were granted death before they were even gifted moral agency. They aren’t the sickness. This is the inevitable outcome of a land so filled with guns that it is warping our national character. We accept these insane tragedies as the price of some vague and tautological freedom (“we need to have all the arms possible so that no one can take away our arms”). We’ve raised the gun to a national symbol, a superlegal and almost supernatural totem, and then are surprised at a national sickness, as shootings that happen daily, at mass hurricanes of insanity that wreck communities and cut short lives, reducing their final frenzied seconds to terror and confusion.

These deaths are different than mass shootings, or the gun violence that plagues inner cities and rural areas alike, or the domestic violence that ends in murder, or the horrible suicide rate. But they are all part of the same picture. Something is coming unmoored and unraveled, and the void is being filled with cheap and easily-accessible weapons. They are the American universal now. They are everywhere, even where the smallest hands can wrap themselves around the trigger.

In every story there will, of course, be the mitigating acts of individual irresponsibility, the “bad apples” that make everyone look bad, right? Every shooting in this country has an excuse. Sadness or alcohol or gang violence or mental instability. And it is true: any shooting can be explained. But not this vast Bruegelian portrait of rent flesh and shattered lives. That is a madness that’s social and political- politics as the expression of our loosened and violent public lives. There’s something wild in this country, and it is enhanced on both ends by the availability of weapons. Having these weapons is changing our character, and the changed character is finding expression in murder. The blameless children are the outcome of this madness. Where there are guns everywhere, there is death. It’s true in Yemen and Afghanistan and Columbia, and it is true here. All you have to do is pick up the paper to see the gears coming roughly unwound.

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