brucekluger.com

    USA Today, December 13, 2012

    When even Santa has to dive for cover
    Holiday mall shooting reveals that our nation's gun culture increasingly puts
    our kids in the line of fire.

    By Bruce Kluger


    We'll never know what was in his
    head, why he was driven to
    madness, or who his intended
    victims were, if any. But one fact
    remains startlingly clear: When
    the assailant, now identified as
    Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22,
    sprinted through Macy's in the
    Clackamas Town Center mall in
    suburban Portland, Ore., on
    Tuesday evening—wearing a
    white hockey mask and a bullet-
    proof vest and spraying the
    crowd with as many as 60
    rounds from his AR-15
    semiautomatic rifle—he was
    perilously close to the gaily decorated Christmas stage, where children line up to
    meet Santa Claus.

    Had the assault occurred on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, the carnage might
    have been sickeningly different.

    "I heard two shots and got out of the chair," Brance Wilson, the mall Santa, told
    reporters after the siege. "I thought a red suit was a pretty good target...so I hit the
    floor. By the time I got up, everybody had left."

    Two adult shoppers were killed in the ambush, a half-dozen were injured, and the
    guman took his own life. As these things go, the death toll was thankfully low.

    And yet the proximity of the bloody scene to an area that traditionally draws hordes
    of kids calls for a moment of reflection: Is there anywhere left that we can take our
    children where they are not witness to, traumatized by, or victims of gun violence?

    Any death at the hands of an unhinged assailant is a tragedy, of course, regardless
    of the age of the victims. But there's something eerily incongruous about an
    innocent child being cut down by random gunfire—though that reality is sadly
    changing.

    When I was growing up, stories like the Clackamas mall rampage were an adults-
    only kind of thing—a post office employee snapping, a murderous sniper on a water
    tower, a liquor store robbery downtown.

    All of that changed, culturally speaking, in 1999, when two shotgun-toting
    teenagers mowed down 12 fellow students and a teacher at Columbine High School
    in Colorado. Since then, kids have become an all too common component of these
    ghastly scenarios.

    Nine-year-old Christina-Taylor Green was one of six people fatally shot in the
    assassination attempt on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in 2011; teenagers made
    up nearly one-quarter of the body count in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007; and
    last summer's shooting in Aurora, Colo., which killed 12 and injured 58, took place
    in a movie theater showing a film marketed largely to youth.

    And that's the problem: Even as children are increasingly drawn into the ring of fire
    in these ceaselessly shocking outbreaks, the gun debate in this nation continues to
    be in the hands of inflexible adults.

    The National Rifle Association maintains its powerful chokehold on legislators in
    Washington; rabid Second Amendment enthusiasts turn a blind eye to the
    consequences of their obstinacy; computer electronics manufacturers keep
    pumping out game after game in which killing is not only the focus of the
    "entertainment" but is also rewarded with bonus points.

    Most disturbing, however, are those ordinary citizens who perceive any reasonable
    curb on assault weapons as an attack on their liberty.

    When I wrote about the Aurora shooting on this page back in July, I proposed one
    such solution and was floored by the response.

    "You anti-gun hack," one reader admonished. "This is as stupid as it gets!"
    commented another. "Sure, let the perverts circumvent the Constitution," concluded
    a third.

    Until we address this deadly stubbornness—until we apply some simple common
    sense to a problem that has grown into a national epidemic—we need to
    acknowledge our complicity in the surreal image we witnessed on Tuesday night: a
    televised news interview with a grown man in a Santa Claus costume, who only
    moments before held a happy child on his lap as the bullets started flying.


    (Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer, Getty Images)
Outside the Clackamas Town Center after a shooting on Tuesday.