"You don't stop bad guys by taking away our guns. You stop bad guys by using our guns."
I'd been trying to come up with something that exemplified the breadth and seriousness of our gun problem, and then last week, there it was, in Ted Cruz's statement. Good guys. Bad guys.Guns. You'd think the entire nation was binge-watching reruns of "Bonanza" and "Gunsmoke."
When did so many of us - regardless of gender - start feeling this need to prove our manhood - and believe that we prove it with violence? The infatuation with guns and the fear that threats are everywhere - at home, on the street, and abroad - seems to be an epidemic. And coinciding with it is an epidemic of anger.
We're angry about everything. Angry about immigration. Angry at anything the president does. Angry at anything related to government. Angry if we can't insult people with ethnic and sexist slurs. Angry that some people say "Happy Holidays."
Anger has become acceptable. So, sadly, has hatred, of people with a different skin color, different religion, different name.
Compassion, moderation, empathy: All signs of weakness. We mock a president who tears up talking about the slaughter of little children at a Connecticut elementary school.
We have an entire crew of Republican presidential candidates who don't seem to even need a reason to be angry. They're just angry.
And it's playing well, apparently, at presidential campaign rallies. Candidates lash out, contort their face into one of rage, and the crowd cheers.
This is just lunacy. It's also dangerous. And four threads in the American psyche - guns, anger, fear, hatred - are so tightly woven together that we may not be able to get control of our gun violence unless we do something about the other threads.
The National Rifle Association has done a good job selling fear, suspicion, and violence, certainly. So have several conservative media personalities. But in plenty of Americans, there was already abundant suspicion and hostility, waiting to be tapped.
Yes, we all have a right to protect ourselves. But we vastly exaggerate the threat to our safety. Violence isn't always the best form of protection. And when it is necessary, even well trained, experienced gun handlers are often unable to shoot quickly enough, accurately enough, to protect people effectively.
But no matter: blend together our anger, our fear and hatred, our need to show strength, and it's hard for voices of reason to rise above the pro-gun noise.
There's little hope that Republican voters will nominate a presidential candidate whose temperament and tone is moderate and reasonable on the gun issue. If a Republican wins the presidency and Republicans keep control of Congress, we can look forward to a troubling period of swagger and belligerence, more angry conservatism on the Supreme Court, and truly dangerous federal policies on guns.
With his action last week, President Obama nudged us slightly forward toward rational gun control. A new president and a new Congress could strengthen that achievement. But that will require an electorate willing to have a rational discussion about guns. So far, Republicans are offering flexed muscles and appeals to our fears and our baser instincts. Their staged rage seems to tap into something almost primal within us.
The Republican candidates' reaction to the contrary, we can enact rational gun controls without banning guns. In his address from the White House last week, Obama cited Martin Luther King's words: "we need to feel the 'fierce urgency of now.'"
"Because," said Obama, "people are dying."
People are dying in multiple-victim violence such as Sandy Hook and San Bernardino, and they are dying from suicides, domestic violence, and inner-city youth violence. Reasonable gun control can begin to stem it. But unless we overcome Americans' blind fear and anger, the carnage will continue.
Maybe we should start by making rage and hatred unacceptable.