NOTE: The following is the text of my newspaper column for July 5, 2018, written in response to last week’s mass shooting in Annapolis.)

Another week, another mass shooting.

That’s America in the 21st century.

“The new normal,” some people are calling it. But there’s nothing normal about it. 

Not one blessed thing.

There’s nothing “normal” about the average American leaving home to go to work, or to school, or church, or a movie or concert or the shopping mall, and wondering as they leave if this will be the day they won’t be coming home to their family.

There are certain occupations - law enforcement officers, firefighters, miltary members - for whom that possibility is - and should be - a legitimate daily concern. Those who choose to serve in those professions understand that risk, and accept it. That’s why they are heroes.

But it should not be a daily fear plaguing the minds of school teachers. Or their students. Or young couples looking forward to date night at the movies. Or the faithful who turn out for Bible study. Or someone who just ran into the store for a carton of eggs or a new pair of jeans.

Or staff members at a community newspaper.

 The fact that it was my profession that was specifically targeted this time around adds a whole new dimension of horror and grief for those of us who love this line of work and care about the communties we serve. 

Every time one of these mass shootings takes place, there is inevitably someone interviewed by reporters who will say: “It could happen to any one of us.” If that fact hadn’t already been driven home for us, it certainly has been now.

I remember the expression on the face of my father - a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service in Bradley, Ill., for nearly 30 years - on the afternoon of Aug. 20, 1986, when he learned about the post office shooting that had occurred in Edmond, Okla., earlier that day. Each new mass shooting that has happened since that awful day has left me feeling a range of emotions - grief, anger, frustration - but until last Thursday I never truly felt what my father must have felt that late summer day almost 32 years ago.

But accompanying my own increased sense of dread was an increased sense of pride in my profession, as the staff members of the Annapolis Capital Gazette - even in the midst of their mourning and anger - managed to pull together and get out the next morning’s issue of the newspaper. 

Proof, if there ever was any, of the love a newspaper has for its community, and its dedication to serving that community even in the darkest of moments.

Five of their own had been viciously, senselessly gunned down. It doesn’t get much darker than that. And everyone lauded them for it.

Everyone, that is, but Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida. He was too busy voicing his outrage over a comment made by one of the surviving Capital Gazette staffers during a television interview. 

Selene San Felice survived the shooting by hiding under a desk. She was one of those who somehow managed to set aside her own personal trauma long enough to help get that next day’s paper to press. 

So even to those of us whose personal first-hand experience with such senseless tragedies has been limited to watching and reading the news reports, it was - or should have been - perfectly understandable when San Felice stated, “I’m going to need more than a couple days of news coverage and some thoughts and prayers because our whole lives have been shattered.”

And then, in what must have been for her a moment of sheer emotional honesty fueled by shock and anger and fatigue, San Felice added, “Thanks for your prayers, but I couldn’t give a (expletive deleted) about them if there’s nothing else.”

Many were taken aback by the frankness of the comment. Myself included. But most of us understood. It was a “heat of the moment” response, one born of the horror this staff member had personally witnessed and survived. 

Most of us not only understood, but sympathized. Who among us can honestly say we would never respond in similar fashion if it were us in that situation? Shock and fear makes a person say and do things they wouldn’t under ordinary circumstances.

But Sen. Rubio - a man not exactly known for being one of our finest orators, and whose most important contribution to future history books will be the fact that he was one of the 16 major GOP candidates who  lost the 2016 presidential nomination to Donald Trump, of all people -  said not one word about this latest American mass killing. Instead, he sent out a message on Twitter criticizing San Felice for uttering the expletive.

Yeah, Marco, THAT’S the REAL problem, isn’t it? 

And what of the man who so embarassed Sen. Rubio and those 15 other candidates? Before heading out for another weekend of golf, the president stood before the cameras and told us that the deaths of these five newspaper employees “shocked the conscience of our nation,” and that journalists should be “free from the fear of being violently attacked while doing their job.”

And so, at long last, there was finally something upon which the current occupant of the White House and I actually do agree. 

But the words still rang a little hollow, coming as they did from a president who, at a rally just days before, repeated his previous accusations that journalists are the “enemies of America.”

A man who started referring to journalists as “traitors” long before the election, and who has repeatedly encouraged supporters to demonstrate hatred towards those of us who, in the early days of America, were lauded by none other than Thomas Jefferson - who famously had his own love-hate relationship with the press of his day - as being perhaps the most important component of the nation he helped to create.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” Jefferson said. No truer words were ever spoken. 

And most presidents, even those who often battled with the press, have understood this. Even Richard Nixon, at the height of the Watergate scandal, never exhibited - at least in public -  the brand of open hostility towards the free press that has been the hallmark of our current president.

“By the way, I hate some of these people,” the president has said about reporters. And it shows.

In the hours that immediately followed last week’s shooting, there was much discussion on social media regarding whether or not the perpetrator may have been a Trump supporter. That was to be expected, I suppose, given the current climate in this country.

And even with the understanding that the gunman had a long-standing grudge against the paper he attacked, I for one can’t help thinking that, yes, the president’s encouragement to hate the media did in some way contribute to the madness this time.

(Column copyright © 2018 by John A. Small)