People attend a community memorial service on Aug. 14, 2019, at...

People attend a community memorial service on Aug. 14, 2019, at Southwest University Park, in El Paso, Texas, for the people killed in a mass shooting on Aug. 3.  Credit: AP/Briana Sanchez

Oh, my America, so red, white and bruised. Scars and strife forever. Beautiful for specious lies. My country ‘tis of thee, what has become of thee? You have exhausted me with your guns and ammo, and your bombast and bluster. Your empty jingoism is tiring; your patriotic preening embarrassing. I hardly know you anymore.

Oh, my America, my heart breaks every day as you lock, load and fire. My brothers and sisters fall in your houses of prayer, in your stores and your schools. Is this the necessary sacrifice for the right to bear arms? Then come the thoughts and the prayers. Then the predictable silence from the quivering politicians who look up ever so briefly before returning to their real jobs: to polish the boot heels of the NRA. Rinse, repeat, reload. Rinse, repeat, reload. Recoil.

Oh, my America, you have always been violent. Wounded Knee. Hiroshima. My Lai. Selma. And now Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Parkland, El Paso, Dayton. What to call this? Here, I will name it for you. I will say the word out loud so there is no longer any doubt. This is madness. Are you even listening?

Oh, my America, no more yellow ribbons for me. No more moments of silence. No more hand over heart as the fighter jets roar above an oversize flag in some tricked-out stadium bursting with inebriated fans drunk from the strange brew of sports and war. Instead, I will take a knee.

Oh, my America, you have traded my goodwill for your bad deeds. Pawned my obedient childhood pledges of allegiance for extended ammo clips, open carry and body armor. You sold me a hologram of life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom. But when I needed protection you handed me a shiny Glock and said, “Here’s your protection, pal. Aim for the heart. Trust me, you will get the hang of it.”

Oh, my America, my eyes are filled with the endless tears of the traumatized. When I look at you today I see the coffins and the mounds of teddy bears stacked up at curbside vigils. I also see the dead-end faces of the 20-year-old white shooters who are high on hate and racism. I see the cynical profiteering pimps of the gun industry, cashing in on the latest mass shooting. “See?” they lecture us. “We told you only a gun can protect you from each other.” #gunssavelifes, they bellow. Tell it to the grieving families, I say. Look into their grieving eyes and tell them.

Oh, my America, you have told me over and over again that I am nobody to you. I am not a lobbyist, a senator, nor billionaire. I am not a brand name or media megaphone. I am invisible to you, the next statistic in your casualty count. But I am your American boy, the one from the mythical Heartland that you ally yourself with when you need to serve your political agenda. What will you do with me now that your fair-haired native son no longer believes in you?

Oh, my America, you will dismiss me as ungrateful. As simply noise that can be silenced with another slick public relations campaign. It’s all about the right messaging, you whisper. You will slur me as a radical leftist. Yet, I am more patriotic than you. I believe in what was once special about this beleaguered nation. I believe in that shining city on the hill. I believe in Lady Liberty’s torch and the immigrant’s dream. I believe in welcoming the stranger to my door. I believe I should have the right to buy groceries without the fear of ending up as another chalk outline in some crime scene. I believe my grandchildren should not have to wear bulletproof backpacks to class and be forced to participate in live shooter drills. And, yes, I believe no one has the right to own an assault rifle.

Oh, my America, I ask, what is it you still believe in?

Stephen J. Lyons is the author of four books of essays and journalism. His most recent book is “Going Driftless: Life Lessons from the Heartland for Unraveling Times.”


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