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After San Bernardino: fear, guns, and politics 

Fourteen people dead, another 21 injured: husbands, wives, parents. Three were immigrants who had fled violence in their own country.

Their names, like their faces, reflect a diverse community in an increasingly diverse nation: Robert Adams, Isaac Amanios, BennettaBetbadal, Harry Bowman, Sierra Clayborn, Juan Espinoza, Aurora Godoy, Shannon Johnson, Larry Daniel Kaufman, Damian Meins, Tin Nguyen, Nicholas Thalasinos, Yvette Velasco, Michael Wetzel.

They went to work December 2 at an agency that helps people with developmental disabilities. And they lost their lives there.

The FBI is treating the San Bernardino killings as an act of terrorism, and it certainly appears that it was. But if what we've learned so far is an indication, this wasn't a massacre designed and directed from abroad. It seems to have been carefully planned and committed by a young married couple whose warped religious and political views led them to believe they had an obligation to kill innocent people.

How this country responds will tell us a lot about what kind of nation we'll be in the future. And so far, the signs are troubling.

I don't underestimate the seriousness of terrorism and the need to protect us from it. But there are intelligent ways to deal with terrorism, and there are horribly misguided ones. And as we should have learned after 9/11, fear, ignorance, prejudice, and political agendas can do enormous harm, eroding privacy rights and shaping disastrous foreign policies. All of that can feed terrorism, rather than combatting it.

Once again, sadly, American Muslims are a target of suspicion. Both Syed RizwanFarook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were Muslims, and Muslims in this country say they're receiving threats. Among the incidents reported in Saturday's New York Times: vandals breaking windows, overturning furniture, and leaving blood stains in the Islamic Center in Palm Beach, Florida; death threats left on voice mail at a Manassas, Virginia, mosque, and threats received at a mosque in San Bernardino.

The threats are nothing new, though. The Times also noted earlier incidents: women and children harassed; gunshots aimed at a mosque in Meriden, Connecticut; feces thrown at a mosque in Texas; rifle-carrying protesters gathering outside an Islamic Center in a Dallas suburb.

The fact is that Muslims have caused very, very few of the gun deaths in this country. But with gun violence, facts don't seem to matter.

Another fact: mass shootings are a very small percentage of this nation's gun violence. The vast majority of US gun deaths are suicides. Many others are individual homicides.

It took no time after the San Bernardino shooting for muscle-flexing Republican politicians to call for tough action. There was none of that after the mass shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood on November 27. None after the massacre at the African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina. None after those precious children were killed in Newtown, Connecticut, three years ago. None after the horror in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

But now Republicans want action. They want all-out war against ISIS.

Maybe that'll resonate: fear, apparently, has a grip on many of us. The day after last week's mass shooting, the Times quoted one after another American who said they worry every day about being shot. Some seemed overwhelmed by fear.

If politicians really want to protect us, there's certainly something they can do - because there's one more fact to add to the list: Guns caused the carnage in San Bernardino. Guns caused it in Colorado Springs, Charleston, Newtown, Aurora....

No matter. The day after the San Bernardino tragedy, while their presidential candidates were calling for tough action against ISIS, every Republican senator but one voted against the mildest of gun-control measures: barring sales of guns and explosives to people on the government's terrorism watch list.

Calling for war in another country is apparently easier. And it won't upset the NRA.

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