MANCHESTER, Conn. At least the racist massacre at the church in Charleston seems likely to rid respectable society of the Confederate flag, the banner embraced by the perpetrator, who has reminded the country of what the flag really stood and still stands for -- not just defiance, independence and Southern heritage, but use of those things in support of evil oppression, first slavery and then nullification of federal civil rights law.
Just as telling, the perpetrator burned the American flag, the flag of the universal nation.
The rest of the political controversy arising from Charleston, what to do about gun violence, will go nowhere, because the problem is far larger than guns themselves and too large for the public mind to comprehend.
Yes, investigation of potential gun purchasers should be required everywhere in all circumstances and criminals and mental defectives should be disqualified. That would slow the proliferation of guns. But with an estimated 300 million guns already in private possession in the United States, an average of one for every man, woman and child, even if manufacture was stopped criminals and psychotics would not have much trouble obtaining a gun. Talk of outlawing the manufacture of ammunition only spurs the private accumulation of inventories. And the right of the people to keep and bear arms, as recognized by the national and state constitutions, is there for good reason and will never be repealed.
Besides, as with the massacre at the school in Newtown in 2012, neither background-check legislation nor any other conceivable gun-related legislation would have had much effect in Charleston. The rifle used in the Newtown massacre was legally obtained and the perpetrator gained access to it in his own home -- indeed, it was thrust on him by a parent. It was the same with the pistol used in Charleston. There's no outlawing stupidity.
The big problem of violence remains the culture -- racism, yes, a little bit, but, far more than that, drug criminalization, the poverty and social disintegration caused by welfare policy, and the normalizing and commercializing of violence as entertainment, which induce psychosis. The Oklahoma newspaper editor Jenkin Lloyd Jones noted it decades ago: "We are drowning our youngsters in violence, cynicism and sadism piped into the living room and even the nursery. The grandchildren of the kids who used to weep because the Little Match Girl froze to death now feel cheated if she isn't slugged, raped, and thrown into a Bessemer converter."
Nothing will be done about any of that while the country keeps raging at itself over gun laws.
The country would do better to marvel at the miracle revealed by the Charleston massacre -- not the treacly forgiveness conferred on the perpetrator by the relatives of the murdered, a religious delusion contrary to justice and even national survival, but the continued loyalty of black people to their country despite an oppression that, while lifting faster lately, continues both officially, through the abuse of police power, and unofficially in many ways.
Black separatism has never attracted many adherents and there has been no vengeful black terrorism. Instead most black people have put their faith in the country's principles, in their white fellow citizens, and in God, and thereby, as William Faulkner wrote, became "a people who had learned humility through suffering and learned pride through the endurance that survived the suffering."
On the whole that faith has been justified lately, at least when people's attention could be commanded.
There was no bigger spur to the civil-rights movement than the Ku Klux Klan's bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963, which murdered four black girls. The shootings at the church in Charleston, apparently intended to start a race war, instead have just appalled people and evoked their compassion again, and at least compassion isn't too big to understand.
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer, in Manchester, Conn.