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In Tennyson’s great poem Idylls of the King, terrifying wild beasts roam the roads of post-Roman Britain, petty monarchs battle endlessly, and there is no safety anywhere. In the midst of this chaos the young King Arthur arises, aided by the half-Christian, half-pagan magician Merlin.

Central to Arthur’s power is his magical sword Excalibur, which he wins with Merlin’s help.

On one side are the words ‘Take Me’; on the other side, the words ‘Cast Me Away.’

Arthur’s knights are challenged to dedicate their lives to spiritual quests, protection of the weak and the defense of justice. As time goes on, the quest became an excuse to escape an intensifying corruption at the center of Camelot, typified by rivalries of different knightly factions and the out-of-control adultery of Lancelot and Queen Guinevere.

The kingdom is slowly rent apart by dishonesty, scheming and lust for power.

At last, Arthur reluctantly obeys the words that say ‘Cast Me Away,’ and throws his sword in the sea, where it is grasped by the Lady of the Lake and taken below the waves.

It is only at the end of the tale that one realizes that it’s has all been about the moral decline of a nation, and that the sword Excalibur is — or has become — part of the problem.

Very much like America, I’d say, which was won by our own magical weapon, the gun.

But unlike Tennyson’s dying king, we cannot put the gun down, try as we might.

There is no reason whatsoever that military-style assault weapons should ever be sold to American civilians. Never mind the fact that the AR-15 semi-automatic can quickly be converted into a fully-automatic M-16 — it’s not even about that. It’s about the blood money of the National Rifle Association and the mainly Republican bagmen who received money from them, and the power that gives the NRA’s toadies to corrupt everybody else.

Here are some politicians, along with the swag they receive from the National Rifle Association. Marco Rubio, who likes to talk at length about his thoughts and prayers every time there is a massacre, has taken in some $3,303,355 from the NRA throughout his political career. The NRA donated some $30,300,000 to President Donald Trump. (That’s right, 30 million.) John McCain got $7,700,000 from the same source.

Richard Burr (R), $6.99 million, Roy Blunt (R) $4.55 million, Thom Tillis (R) $4.43 million, Cory Gardner (R) $3.88 million. French Hill (R) $1.09 million. Ken Buck (R) $800.544. David Young (R) $707,662, Mike Simpson (R) $385,731, Greg Gianforte (R) $344,630.

You could get modestly wealthy just taking handouts from the gun lobby — and they’ve got the money to hand out. But please note the political affiliation of the big-money boys. There is a big overlap between the NRA and the Republican party. The gun organizations have become a major organizational center for conservative politics in the U.S.

And their message is always the same — it consists of the agonized screams of patriarchal men who believe that someone, somewhere, is out to take away their guns.

The gun manufacturers, for their part, have discovered a cash cow that serves their interests both as retailers and as manufacturers.

The paranoid love of guns operates like an addiction, with all the character dislocations that are sadly typical of addictions. And that, in turn, arises from the patriarchy that is the True Church of a great many American men. Patriarchy is a game of winners and losers; and semi-automatic weapons are the consolation prize that patriarchy awards to permanently-aggrieved losers.

The reward that the entrepreneurs of death award to themselves is blood money in the hundreds of millions, generated by unconscionable numbers of dead Americans.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the recent school massacre worked together to design a rational response to the death they faced, a movement to create common-sense gun-safety laws for our society. Yes, their response was political, because gun politics are eating away at the fabric of our political life. Sadly, the idealistic young students of Stoneman Douglas may be, to some extent, disappointed, perhaps eventually scorned as pariahs.

That becomes a possibility for anyone who decides to live with integrity. But that kind of integrity is a gift from God, and we need to honor it.

Of course, the NRA pretends that their hustle is all about the Second Amendment, which it isn’t. If they would read that Amendment from the beginning, is specifies that guns should be under the authority of “a well regulated militia.”

I ask the leaders of the NRA -- where’s your well regulated militia, boys? Apparently it is missing in action.

It certainly isn’t a bunch of self-appointed, pathetic middle-aged men in camouflage gear running around in high paranoia.

There is nothing so dangerous to public health than under-educated, under-employed, self-hating men who think that self-esteem comes from the gun.

Lawrence Swaim