"No set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society."
So said President Obama in words of comfort in Newtown. The president was right to speak of evil, but mistaken when he called the massacre "senseless."
For this was a premeditated and purposeful act of mass murder, and the devil that did it knew exactly what he was doing and why.
When he put four bullets into his mother's head while she lay in bed, Adam Lanza wanted her life ended along with his. When he headed for Sandy Hook Elementary, with the Glocks and Bushmaster rifle, he knew he would encounter no armed resistance.
Before he went into that school to shoot 20, 30 or 40 children, barely more than babies, he knew his slaughter would be so stomach-turning and heart-wrenching that the TV crews would come running.
And by day's end, the world would know who Adam Lanza was.
Lanza kept firing at the children until he heard the sirens. Then he pulled out one of the Glocks, put it to his head and ended it, knowing he was on his way to becoming world famous.
Just as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine are famous. Just as James Holmes, the "Joker" of the Aurora "Dark Knight Rising" massacre, is famous. Just as Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson mass murderer who shot Gabby Giffords, is famous.
A desire to be famous coupled with a dead conscience is the common thread running through these recurring atrocities. These loners and losers want us to know who they are. And, to succeed now, each almost has to outdo in horror those who went before.
Since the news first came in Friday from Newtown, we have argued about guns in America and mental illness, but heard little about the moral sickness of our society.
Americans have always owned guns. But in Prohibition, when gangsters like John Dillinger, "Machine Gun" Kelly and "Baby Face" Nelson were notorious, the most remembered atrocity was the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre." Al Capone's gang executed seven of Bugs Moran's gang in a Chicago garage.
Yet, just two years ago, when one Washington, D.C., drive-by shooting ended with four dead on a sidewalk and five wounded, it was just local news.
Why are these atrocities growing more frequent and deadly?
We are told that it is because the guns used—especially assault rifles like Russian-made AK-47s and civilian copies of the M-16 used in Vietnam, like the Bushmaster—are all too available.
But the guns used in the Sandy Hook massacre were legally purchased by Lanza's mother, and she and Adam lived in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the country.
And the Bushmaster is not a machine gun but a semi-automatic, as are the 100-year-old Colt .45 and M-1 rifle used by GIs in World War II. Fully automatic weapons like the Thompson submachine gun cannot be purchased without a federal license. No fully automatic weapon has been used in any of these massacres.
Will ending all sales and transfers of assault rifles and limiting the rounds in clips and magazines reduce these massacres in malls, movie theaters and schools? Did it succeed when the assault weapons ban was in force in the Clinton years?
If assault rifles are evil things that ought not be in the hands of decent Americans, why do "shoot-to-kill" video games feature these weapons?
Few of America's young have seen an assault weapon fired outside the military. Scores of millions have seen them fired on TV. Many of our movies are advertisements for the efficiency of assault weapons in the hands of good guys doing heroic deeds.
Are the folks who think America would be a better place with a more restrictive Second Amendment willing to restrict the First Amendment to stop all distribution of movies and cable shows that depict famous actors blasting enemies with assault weapons?
Not long ago, there existed in our hearts "a fear of God."
How, we would ask ourselves, if we commit an evil act like murder, will we answer at God's judgment seat? For He will decide if we enter what the president called in Newtown, God's "eternal house in heaven."
But if God is dead, not to worry. Just put the gun to your head and pull the trigger, and it's over. No trial. No disgrace. No prison. Nothing to worry about anymore.
No voice of conscience told Adam: Do not do this evil thing! Now he is no longer a nobody, a nerd, a recluse. He is famous. Everybody is talking about him, and ruminating on what might have motivated him.
Adam wanted to be somebody. And now he is.
And out there others like him are thinking: That could be me.