Mourning in America

In a May 24 proclamation, Joe Biden ordered American flags to be lowered to half-staff until sunset Saturday, May 28 in honor of the 19 children and two teachers slaughtered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Less than two weeks earlier, on May 13, Biden in another proclamation designated May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and called on all governors to direct flags to be flown at half-staff that Sunday in memory of slain police officers. Under that order, flags were to remain at half-staff until sunset on Monday, May 16.

That edict came just one day after Biden ordered flags to be flown at half-mast in memory of the 1 million American lives lost to COVID-19. This overlapped the Peace Officers’ proclamation, which also requested that flags be lowered on May 15.

Those of us who are old enough to remember the Kennedy assassination will likely recall what a rare sight it once was to see the ultimate symbol of American pride lowered in sorrow and mourning. Back then, it was the rarest of events, reserved for the rarest of occasions.

The flag is one of this country’s most potent symbols, but there was no formal set of guidelines for its use and abuse until President Dwight Eisenhower issued a proclamation on March 1, 1954, stating the following: 

Every Memorial Day, in honor of America’s fallen heroes, the flag should be flown at half-staff till noon, then raised proudly to top staff till sunset.

Since that proclamation, these have been the norms:

  • On the death of a president or former president, the flag should remain at half-staff for 30 days.
  • Across the country, it is to fly 10 days at half-staff upon the death of the vice president, the chief justice or a retired chief justice of the United States, or the speaker of the House of Representatives.
  • For lesser, but still high-ranking members of the federal government, the flag is to be displayed at half-staff from the day of death until interment.
  • In individual states, the flag should be flown at half-staff from the day of death until the day of interment for a U.S. senator, representative, or territorial delegate.
  • On the death of the governor of a state, territory or possession, the flag should be flown at half-staff from the day of death until interment.
  • Also, at his discretion, the president may order the flag to be flown at half-staff to mark the death of other officials, former officials, or foreign dignitaries.
  • The president may order half-staff display of the flag after other tragic events.

There’s the rub. Mass shootings have been defined by Gun Violence Archive as incidents in which four or more people have been shot. As of May 27, there have been 27 school shootings this year, and a total of 214 mass shootings. Clearly, the bulk of them occur in cities dominated by Democrats, including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Detroit, and St. Louis. But 27 school shootings?

If we proclaim every school shooting an occasion for national mourning, we will never get out of our funeral clothes or our funeral depression.

I suggest a different approach. There is nothing more heinous, nothing more evil than the slaughter of innocent children by unspeakably sick, twisted gunmen, who all too often react to social rejection in ways far different than you and I handle our various defeats.

Instead of grief, we should substitute rage. Rage at the mindless video games that make carnage an online festival. Rage at absentee parents who are too deep in their own personal bubbles to prevent the putrid monster their offspring is morphing into. Rage at everyone who sees a twisted social media post and shrugs it off with a remark like, “That’s just Jacob being Jacob.”

Instead of splashing the names of these sick shooters all over our media, we should bury them in the deepest pit of obscurity, and never broadcast a word about their history, background, or motivation. Shooting a school should never give one of these sick punks a two-day ride at the top of the news cycle.

Instead of wringing our hands about the existence of nearly 400 million guns in the United States—the vast majority of which are owned and used by decent, law-abiding people—we should focus with clear eyes on the social cancer that fosters such tragedies. We should shame and ridicule every local, state, and national politician who opposes protecting every school in America with well-armed, well-trained guards.

And we should do it with guts and determination, beneath the blessing of our flag proudly flying at full height.

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