Joe Lapointe has worked as a sports reporter with the New York Times and a segment producer for "Countdown With Keith Olbermann'' on Current TV
Earlier this week, while walking through Midtown Manhattan on the way to the theatre, I came across a cluster of New York police officers in heavy blue clothing on a hot day.
They stood in the shadows of a building entrance, as inconspicuous as they could be while wearing helmets with plastic shields and bullet-proof vests and holding automatic rifles. I glanced at them, without staring. They glanced back, not rudely but thoroughly checking me out, gazing in particular at my briefcase.
What a city, I thought. Despite the terrorist attacks of 9-11, Manhattan has become one of the safest urban areas in the nation. Some local people complain that it's turned into a sterile, expensive Disneyland.
Closed-circuit television cameras abound alongside the cops. As Michael Jackson once sang, "Sometimes I feel like somebody's watching me." You feel safe, although your privacy is not what it once was. There's always cognitive dissonance. If I feel so secure, why am I instinctively suspicious of everyone that passes me by?
My answer came early Friday morning when a gunman opened fire outside the Empire State Building, one of the most iconic structures in the world. At least two people are dead, the police report, one of them the gunman, with others rushed to nearby hospitals.
The television reporters are saying the shooter might have been a disgruntled employee of a nearby business. With guns so plentiful in the United States, a gunman for any reason can kill multiple victims and ruin the lives of many more merely by flexing just one finger for just a few seconds.
Friday's shootings add to a recent litany that includes the movie-house massacre in Colorado and Sikh temple massacre in Wisconsin. Mass gun violence stories are becoming as common as drought stories, hurricane warnings and political debates about Medicare, abortion, rape and birth control.
Unlike the debate about Medicare, abortion, rape and birth control, mass shootings are not part of the political discourse during a Presidential election campaign. It is avoided by cynical Republicans, beholden to the National Rifle Association, and by timid Democrats, afraid to step on what has become, for them, the dangerous third rail of politics.
One of the few who dare to speak out is Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York, who has cracked down as much as possible on gun sales, possession and use in his city.
But in a free society with loose borders between states, it is impossible to check everyone for weapons, no matter how many SWAT teams stand on the sidewalks of New York.
Wouldn't it be interesting if one of the moderators in the Presidential or Vice-Presidential debates would say to the candidates: "What, exactly, is your solution to the crisis of gun violence in our nation?"
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