Like many, I have been glued to the coverage of this horrific shooting, and wondering how to respond. The task, as I see it, is not to take guns away from Americans. The challenge is to ratchet down the American obsession with guns. That will require a lot of cultural and historical soul-searching; a kind of therapy on a national scale. I went through that weaning process myself, having grown up in gun culture. My father was a hunter, avid gun collector and amateur ballistics expert, and I was by his side absorbing everything, like a sponge in tennis shoes. By age ten I knew the effective range of a 30-06 and when percussion overtook the flintlock. I drew pictures of guns. As a postwar baby boomer kid, I was also fascinated by fighter planes, bombers, torpedoes and hand grenades.

Perhaps one of the assets my father gave me was a healthy dose of safety and respect. One day he took me out to the dry hills east of Los Angeles and stuck a bar of soap in a tree. Then we walked back thirty paces or so and he told me to hit the soap bar with my .22. I thought it was an odd target, but I was proud of my skills and hit it with the first shot. The bar of course shattered and lay in pieces at the base of the tree. As we looked at it, my father said: “soap, Son, is approximately the same consistency as human flesh.”

I do believe there is a middle ground between total gun control at one extreme and the no-holds-barred, sidearms-in-public attitude on the other. But it is a difficult middle ground to achieve, one that will require a lot of collective cultural therapy.

Another cultural phenomenon that I think plays in to the Tucson tragedy is the demise of the neighborhood. The daily checks and balances, the fragile skein of familiarity, concern and friendship that a neighborhood provides, have been pretty much extirpated from North American urban and suburban life. We are disaggregated, car-oriented, and mobile. The neighborhood in various forms has been a constant in human life, up until now. I don’t think there is a replacement. Certainly not the internet.