In the light of yesterday’s desperate calamity, a massacre of innocent schoolchildren that took place in an elementary school not twenty-five miles from where I sit, one of the great mysteries of life in America is thrown into stark relief. According to the second amendment (1791) of the United States Constitution, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Many people, including a number who sit for life on the United States Supreme Court, genuinely believe that this is a guarantee of the right of private individuals to buy, own, and use guns, including weapons designed by those sociopaths at Saab, Glock and all the rest to kill as many people as quickly as possible. It is as if that part about the “well regulated militia” were wholly irrelevant, and not the principal reason why such a right was considered necessary in the first place. Hardly anybody who is not an arms or drug dealer and lives in civilized countries outside the Unites States believes that an individual’s right to own a gun should be upheld without careful regulation, scrutiny, and tight control. Many Americans, however, persist in regarding such regulations as a dangerous infringement of personal liberty. Government of the people, by the people, for the people has been a cherished ideological foundation of the Republic since the beginning. Yet obviously this coexists with a profound degree of mistrust of all elected federal, state, and local authorities who make and uphold laws on that very basis. It is a matter of head-scratching mystification that the United States of America could be willing, even determined, to pay so great a human price to maintain what seems such a quaint historical relic as the second amendment, and one so willfully misinterpreted. To say that we now have a well regulated militia in the form of any number of local police departments that are visibly armed to the teeth is a woeful understatement. Leaving aside any other objection, had they known how much more damage an armed man can do today than he ever could in the last decade of the eighteenth century, is it conceivable that the founding fathers would have bequeathed such a curse to their posterity? And what is even more perplexing when you talk to otherwise intelligent, rational persons, around the water-cooler, at the dinner table, or in the public bar, is how hostile many ordinary, decent Americans can be to the idea that fully paid-up, card-carrying psychopaths ought to be prevented as a matter of urgent priority from laying their hands on a brace of automatic weapons—even while they regularly do, and kill randomly and in such shocking storms of wanton, senseless violence. Hand-wringing editorials such as yesterday morning’s in the New York Times ought to make a difference, but they only seem to reinforce the sense of a nation hopelessly polarized between common sense and the fortress mentality of the dangerously gun-obsessed. This great country is, at times, exceedingly difficult to understand.