Another week, another disturbed young man, another mass killing spree. Episodes like Elliot Rodger's murder of four men and two women near the University of California, Santa Barbara campus have become all too frequent in America.
I certainly have no answer for the eloquent cry of Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son Christopher, a stranger to the killer, was shot dead in the street.
"Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and the NRA," he cried. "They talk about gun rights. What about Chris' right to live? When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, 'Stop this madness; we don't have to live like this'? Too many have died. We should say to ourselves: not one more."
Such is the downright satanic power of the gun cult in this country. Every poll available shows Democrats, Republicans and gun-owners alike favor, at minimum, stronger background checks aimed at keeping semi-automatic killing machines away from disturbed individuals like Rodgers.
Yet nothing happens, basically because Second Amendment cultists exercise a stranglehold on the political process. If the Newtown, Conn., massacre of elementary school children didn't cause a rethink, no misogynist shooting down sorority girls is going to change a thing.
It's really quite bizarre, but until some certifiably conservative politician takes on the NRA and wins, spree killings will remain a depressing feature of American life. We could make it much harder for deranged people to acquire arsenals without greatly inconveniencing legitimate gun owners, but we haven't got the guts to give it a serious try.
Then there's the customary inadequacy of our laws relating to involuntary commitment of persons deemed an active threat to themselves or others -- very roughly the legal standard in most jurisdictions.
In the case of Elliot Rodger, there should have been better two-way communication. California authorities say sheriff's deputies who visited his apartment found a polite, shy kid who seemed no threat.
But shouldn't there have been two-way communication? Maybe instead of just dispatching deputies, they should have talked with his mother first. Maybe she's an alarmist; maybe not. I'm told some California jurisdictions do this as a matter of course.
Liberals and conservatives alike worry overmuch about the rights of mentally disturbed people. This isn't the USSR. Nobody's hospitalizing eccentrics or dissenters. Madness, however, has no rights. Acting otherwise is like letting children play in traffic. Alas, it appears Americans will face the problem soon after enacting sensible gun laws.
In short, probably never.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons can be reached at email@example.com.