On Jan. 27, 1838, a tall, obscure 28-year-old named Abraham Lincoln took the stage at the Lyceum in Springfield, Ill., to speak out against a wave of mob violence that took place along the dividing fault line on slavery in the United States.
In his remarks, the young speaker grappled with the consequences of such divisions and lawlessness in a country still so young that one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, was still alive at the time of his remarks.
Early in his remarks, Lincoln contemplated how the fledgling nation might "expect the approach of danger": "Shall we expect some trans-Atlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow?" he asked, and then responded with both confidence and clarity, "Never!" But, where then might the danger come from?
He offered an often-cited answer that today seems even more chillingly prophetic, "If it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher."
Indeed, our leaders seem to have turned a blind eye to a domestic enemy that is far more dangerous than all the terrorists of the world added up: The gun lobbies and others have turned gun ownership in the United States from a reasonable right into a national pathology, largely through their obstruction of the most common-sense gun controls.
Terrorists have killed approximately 3,000 Americans since 2000. Of those, 2,902 were killed on 9/11. Another 80 or so have died since. But this year more than 35,000 Americans will be killed due to gun violence, and more than 100,000 will be injured. More than 10,000 of these will be murdered. Others will die of self-inflicted wounds, due to accidents or in incidents with police.
If a foreign enemy were to inflict such a toll on our country, we would be up in arms. Indeed, we suffer roughly a 9/11 every month thanks to gun violence - more Americans have died from firearms in the past 50 years than we have lost in all the wars we have ever fought. But we let the blood flow.
Some, like Bill O'Reilly, the disgraced conservative journalist, tweeted out in the wake of the violence this week in Las Vegas that such losses are the "price of freedom."
No. The price of freedom is having to listen to the reckless, feckless tools of the gun lobby.
The losses we are suffering in our own streets are casualties of a war we are waging against ourselves. Defenders of the so-called "right to bear arms" invoke the Second Amendment to the Constitution as if it were a sacrament, without concern for the fact that the word "arms" no longer means what it did to the Founders who were concerned with preserving militias.
Beyond this, gun lobbyists argue that military-style assault weapons are needed for sportsmen. Craven politicians support this reason - even though it is hardly sport to hunt with an AK-47. In any case, hunting itself is a barbaric and unnecessary throwback to another era we'd best be done with.
The United States has about 4.4 percent of the world's citizens but "almost half" of the world's civilian-owned guns, according to Vox. Among the world's 22 most-developed countries, according to a study done by the American Journal of Medicine, Americans are 10 times more likely to die of gun violence than in those countries; our gun murder rate is 25 times higher, and our gun-related suicide rate is eight times that of the other nations. We have half the population of those 22 countries - and 82 percent of the gun deaths.
That is the real American exceptionalism. It is the view that the rules of civilization, though proven and written in blood on the pages of history, do not apply to us. We take the same stance about providing health care to our people as the lone developed nation not to offer health care as a right to all - and thousands die. We fail to reinvest in our infrastructure - and we become weaker. We lag in investing in education - and we become less competitive.
We are doing as the young Lincoln predicted. We are waging a war against ourselves. When Lincoln spoke, he was condemning the disregard for law in a racist America. But we must ask whether, even in his darkest fantasy, he could have foreseen today's twisting and abuse of the legislative and executive systems to savage the lives of Americans by saturating our communities with the tools of our own destruction.