In my childhood, there were no mass killings.

I am an old man and the older I get the less I understand.

I can't understand how anyone can look into the face of a 6-year-old and fire round after round into that child, as the deranged gunman did Friday in Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Wisdom is supposed to come with age; now, after 70 years, the realization that it's not necessarily so is itself ironic wisdom.

Perhaps a blessing of my old age is remembering a childhood devoid of school lockdowns and mass killings. That's unlike today, characterized by a horrifying increase in the number of madmen opening fire not just in schools, but in movie theaters, malls and any place that people gather. Why, in our advanced and enlightened age, is the slaughter worsening?

I don't understand.

I was a child of the 1940s and '50s when school doors were unlocked, no one imagined lockdown drills and the only violence to be feared was a nun on the warpath searching for who tossed the spitball. If there were many mass killings then, I couldn't find them. So, why no mass murders then; why so many now? (Here is a chart)

Maybe fewer people then were conscious of or controlled by their demons, as most were too busy struggling for food and shelter during the Great Depression and their nation's very survival during World War II.

We hear passionate cries since Friday's massacre for more gun control. Fair enough. Maybe we need more. But the number of gun control laws back then were meager compared with today's. Those who had access to guns weren't using them to kill innocents. Gang punks had to improvise their own weapons (called zip guns) to rumble. Even so, innocent children weren't shot on their front porches or killed by stray bullets while sleeping.

I don't understand.

Experts tell us that our mental health system has failed us by not spotting and disarming mass killers before they strike. Perhaps so; mental illness, even now, remains too little understood. Yet, were not people in the '40s and '50s equally afflicted with mental illness? Has there been a sudden increase? Certainly, we had fewer mental health professionals and services back then. Yet, now, with professionals and services galore we have an explosion of mass killings.

I don't understand.

The solution, we're told, is more school security. The fact that we needed virtually no school security in the '40s and '50s speaks to the fact that more locked doors, more cameras and so forth, while not a bad idea, address the symptom rather than the cause of today's killing outbreak.

Experts also tell us that despite the mounting number of such attacks, schools remain the safest place for kids. They say the Sandy Hook attack was an "isolated incident" and the act of a sole sociopath. Indeed. Yet where were such maniacs in the 1940s and '50s? In hiding? Or do we have more of them now? If so, why?

I don't understand.

Is the problem the "culture of violence," the bloody images and savagery that are so mainstream today in the media, video games and even on the streets? Yes, that's a difference from my childhood. We grew up in an "innocent age," which today's sophisticates mock as something amusing, if not harmful.

Yet, we don't need a study when common sense tells us that innocence is not a predictor of violence. Common sense says a society immersed as we are in violence tends to perpetuate violence and can hardly be expected to cure itself with Band-Aids. Some will scoff, erroneously accusing me of asserting a direct link between the Sandy Hook killer and violent video games.

Can it be something deeper than that? The fact is indisputable: We have been afflicted with increased mass killings; once we were blessed with decades in which we weren't. We have instituted many "desperately needed" programs and services, yet more blood is spilled.

What is happening today that didn't happen a half-century ago? If it's not a major cultural debasement, then what is it? Is it even possible to contemplate that something deeply ingrained in today's culture is to be blamed without being called a name?

I don't understand.

This my regular Tuesday column in the Chicago Tribune.

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  • My feeling on all this is that it's really time for parents to step up. We hear all the time how important it is we talk to our children about the birds and the bees, the danger of drugs, don't take candy from strangers, etc. Do we talk to our kids about the dangers of guns? Do we take the time to explain to our children what a gun is, why there are guns, how they work, and the harm they can do to people? Nope. Maybe it's time for parents to say, "Guns are not toys, regardless of whether they are sold at a gun shop or Toys R Us." Would it be acceptable for parents to buy their children a toy flask or toy beer bong? How about instead of a drinking juice out of a cup they drink it out of a shot glass?

    As a parent of a boy, I'm guilty just as well. My son has a couple Nerf guns. But maybe it's time to say no more and teach him that guns are not meant to be toys. Maybe when the age is right, I'll teach my son about guns, how to respect them and how to safely use them. I'm really not sure to be honest. All I know is that I can see how children are not only desensitized to dangers of guns, but drawn to the image guns portray in movies and video games.

    The end of the day, if the government wants to pass an assault weapon ban, go ahead, but unfortunately it's not going to solve any problems as long as parents continue to sit on the sidelines. In my opinion, there's nothing the government can do to solve this problem. This is a parental problem.

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    Chicago Tribune contributing op-ed columnist and author of forthcoming historical novel, "Madness: The War of 1812." Reporter, editor and columnist for Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Daily News. Freelance writer and editor.

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