The horrific Fourth of July violence in Highland Park has surely had an impact on all of us, and for some it is particularly personal and difficult.

After 30 minutes of trying to write on Monday afternoon, I thought I might have to throw in the towel on stringing together enough coherent thoughts for a column. About an hour later, buoyed by a text of encouragement from an old friend–my roommate from the summer of 1985 in the National High School Institute’s “Cherub” program–I finished the column that appeared in yesterday’s Daily Herald.

For me, reporting and writing is a form of therapy, a way to cope with traumatic events. On September 11, 2001, as soon as it became clear that it was no accident that the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, I let my Time editor know that I was available to provide reporting support.

When this latest round of evil came so close to home–Highland Park is about 30 miles north of my community–I was likewise moved to write. First, though, I turned to my ongoing form of therapy: free throws.

Below is my column, and to the right is how it appeared on the newspaper’s Opinion page.

I hope that my words help encourage others through this exasperating plague of gun violence. Yes, it can feel like screaming into the void. But let’s not give up hope, and let’s keep telling our stories and advocating for the substantive legislative and all-around behavioral changes that our society so desperately needs.

After a fraught 4th, a plea for leaders to make a free throw

On Monday, as part of my personal Independence Day tradition, I shot 123 free throws with each hand to commemorate the United States’ 246th birthday.

I did so with a heavy heart: Throughout, my mind never strayed far from the victims in Highland Park. Had the death toll risen since I last caught a glimpse of the news? Had the shooter been apprehended yet?

I also reflected on the numerous mass shootings that have been riddling the United States with increasing frequency. What is wrong with us? Why are we continuing to allow this scourge to oppress our pursuit of happiness?

Earlier in the day, I had been especially grateful to attend my community’s Fourth of July parade. The past two years, the pandemic had nixed the event; as with so many other communities across this region and the entire nation, its return represented a resumption of “normal” times.

Among the dozens of organizations that participated in the parade was one committed to reducing gun violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Beyond a doubt, those marchers drew the strongest applause of the morning.

A short time later, in a cruel 180-degree turn from those cheers, came news of the Highland Park parade massacre. By mid-afternoon, the initial gruesome tally had risen to six fatalities and 24 injured, some in serious or critical condition.

This carnage, too, represents a “normal” of a sinister kind. Although a far cry from what should ever be considered “usual, typical or expected”—the dictionary definition of the word—these acts of mass violence have become all too usual, all too typical, all too expected in our society.

Forgive the crude sports analogy, but it’s an apt one: our nation’s repeated failure to address gun violence is akin to missing free throw after free throw after free throw.

If you’ve been doing it a while, making a free throw isn’t hard. Nobody looms over you to block your shot, and you have plenty of time to set up and let the ball fly. The biggest obstacle is your own lack of focus that translates into poor shooting form, which results in a miss.

Another term for “lack of focus” is distraction.

Too many people in positions of authority are too distracted by other considerations—money and power, mostly—to take meaningful steps to stem the tide of high-powered firearms flowing into the hands of people who have no business wielding them.

After Boulder and Buffalo and Uvalde—and too many others in recent weeks, let alone recent months and years—what will become of the Highland Park tragedy in the national conversation about violence? Is it too cynical to predict it is doomed to fade in our collective consciousness and become just another name in a growing list of mass shootings?

Lord willing, next July 4th, I will be able to resume my ambidextrous free throw tradition with 247 attempts. By then, will there have been a sincere attempt by our political leaders to move beyond their chronic fecklessness on this issue?

Politically, this is not about “left” or “right.” It’s well past time for our leaders to muster sufficient moral focus long enough to come together and make a simple free throw.

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