Published for The Washington Post, December 18, 2012

The intercom had been switched on. “At first we heard a bunch of kids scream,” said a therapist at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “and then it was just quiet and all you could hear was the shooting.”

It is the silence that seemed particularly haunting. The methodical silence of the killer. The unnatural silence of children. Even the apparent silence of a bystander God.

But among those not directly affected, the silence did not last for long. We attempt to regain control of lurching events by explaining them. And we explain according to our pre-existing beliefs. The religious see a God-shaped hole in American society. Those concerned about mental health see a nation inattentive to the broken. Those committed to gun control see a Bushmaster .223. Those who despair of a violent culture see a “first-person shooter” emerged from a video game.

One way we try to beat down death with a stick is by turning helpless horror into a familiar cause.

It is discrediting to any cause when its advocates steal someone else’s grief for their own ideological use. But in this case, the search for the political implications of tragedy is unavoidable. It is the primary purpose of government to protect the innocent from the evil. At Newtown, Conn., none could be more innocent; none could be more evil.

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