CLEVELAND - When the murderous gunfire sounded in Tucson, Arizona, claiming the lives of six people and wounding many others, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a wave of revulsion swept across the country.
Sadly, the nation has felt that revulsion many times before. The stories usually center around a gunman who feels pulling the trigger helps him make a statement.
On television and radio newscasts and talk shows and in newspaper headlines across the country, journalists are probing for answers. Continually, people ask "why?" However, there are no pat answers, although comments range from political rhetoric that has been dialed too high to lack of adequate gun control.
However, it appears to me America has been headed down this slippery slope for several decades. Certainly, high-pitched animosities seem to be in the air. This is by no means a reason for the shootings. There is no real rational answer to an irrational act.
I first asked myself this question when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. It returned two years later when Malcolm X was gunned down. In 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, followed by the muder of Senator Robert F. Kennedy.
A few years later, Alabama Governor George Wallace was severely wounded by a gunman. Then came the the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. There were the shootings at Virginia Tech University, where dozens of people were killed by a gunman who lastly, turned the gun on himself.
As a professional news reporter, my newscasts are almost nightly filled with instances of gunfire in my local community. Wherever you are reading this story, somewhere in your area of the world there has been enough violence to make you cringe and ask the age-old question of "why?"
There seems to be an atmosphere of "in your face" high-pitched disagreement in our country. You need only to turn on some television reality shows, purportedly showing real people in real-life situations, to see arguments and disagreements have reached such a boiling point.
Much of what goes for television and movies entertainment centers on violence.
In our own lives, we are inundated with moments of incivility. If there is no violence, there is widespread disrespect for the other person who shares the road or sidewalk with you. Incivility runs the gamut from car drivers who crank up the volume of their radios and sound systems to the point their music disturbs those who are several cars away, waiting on the traffic light to change.
There are profanities uttered on some talk show radio waves to the point where parents of small children have to turn away from the foul language voiced by some commentators who pepper their sentences with words which, a generation or two ago, brought a mouthful of soap to any youngster who said such words.
I know school teachers who often say they are often called the "b-word" by children as young as 6 and 7. Perhaps these are words heard in the children's homes, either from the mouths of parents or from the speakers of the television sets.
Many of the nation's schools are peppered with fist fights as students use violent means to try and solve their disagreements. Two generations ago, who would have conceived guns would be so prevalent in the hands of people not yet voting age.
There is a lessening of civility in the nation. Those of us who have lived beyond 40 years of age certainly know it.
There have probably always been people who simply did not get lessons on the necessity of civil tongues and civil actions. Still, these early years of the 21st century, their numbers have increased to epidemic proportions.
This past New Year's Eve as the clock ticked toward midnight and the approaching year, I heard the sound of automatic gunfire. One of my neighbors and I spoke of its staccato sound. I am a U.S. combat veteran of the war in Vietnam and the sound of automatic gunfire, where 10 bullets can be pushed through the muzzle of a gun in less than five seconds, is familiar to me.
Somewhere in the darkness, there were gunmen, apparently thrilled so much with the coming of a new year, they felt need to unload clips of bullets in the early-morning air of 2011.
Again, what I heard as I kept my head down, was a lack of civility even at what should be a joyous time. Whoever was behind the gunfire may not have considered the old saying based on the law of gravity -- what goes up must come down -- as he squeezed back the trigger and fired into the midnight air. Somewhere, every one of those bullets came down.
So when we look for causes as to the tragic shooting in Tucson, political figures and sociologists will study many possible causes. On their lips will be everything from questions of gun control to mental instability to political rhetoric pushed to an angry boiling point.
I will let the experts determine all the causes of the wave of violence that sweeps across the country and the society. Certainly, many
of the opinions that have been espoused have a validity. Experts are already trying to pinpoint the causes of the mass murder in Tucson.
Many of those points may have some bearing on the tragedy in Tucson. However, lack of civility -- failure to respect another person's right simply to live in comfort -- in my opion is one of them. Lack of civility, in general, may not have been mentioned as much as it should.
But what your parents taught you, or should have taught you, about respecting the other person, is worth thinking about again. From my vantage point, all of this raises the question: now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, how do we get it back in.
In other words, how do we turn the tide and find less violent ways to express ourselves? Or must we all duck for cover as I did New Year's Eve?
As we talk about the tragedy in Tucson, where a member of the nation's Congress was severely wounded and several other people were hit by bullets that were sprayed unmercilessly in the air, let us think about how we, as a nation, got here and what we need to do to save ourselves.