It's hard to imagine what a schoolroom floor would look like, littered with the bodies of 6- and 7-year-olds. It's hard not to imagine it, to be unable to close your eyes against it. And so, imagining or not imagining, we're talking about guns again. What should we outlaw, or who should we arm?
Congress is talking about another assault-weapon ban, the National Rifle Association is talking about armed guards for every school, and California legislators are looking for ways to thwart the workarounds that have undercut existing gun laws. And in parallel conversations, people are talking about mental illness and the economy and whatever else makes someone want to die shooting.
Late last month, nearly half of Americans (49 percent) told Pew pollsters that it's more important to control guns than to protect the rights of gun owners -- but almost as many (42 percent) said the reverse. Even after the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., gun control is nowhere near as popular as it was in 2000, when the Pew poll found 66 percent support.
Meanwhile, America's per capita murder rate has been dropping, with intermittent spikes, since 1993, and so has the rate of murders by gun. Out of every 100,000 Americans in 2011, 3.2 were killed in a gun-related murder, down from 6.6 per 100,000 in 1993, according to FBI data.
Here in Humboldt, as in much of rural America, a gun is far likelier to be a hunting tool than a murder weapon. But guns also show up at most big pot busts, and the rattle of gunfire in the backcountry makes it tougher for everyone from utility crews to wildlife monitors to feel safe on the job. So how weaponized a life do we want? In Humboldt and beyond, one of the few certainties of the gun issue is that it's far from resolved.