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Tuesday, two students in an affluent suburb of Denver, entered their high school and calmly and methodically proceeded to kill 12 classmates and a teacher. After the rampage, they exchanged gunfire with the police and then killed themselves in an apparent double suicide. Our profound sympathy goes out to the families of the victims of this incomprehensible tragedy.

Denver residents, like the numbed citizens of Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas and Oregon before them, must now try to figure out why this terrible act occurred. The first answer is, of course, the horrifying ease with which Americans can get guns. We understand the constitutional and historical issues behind the gun-control debate in the United States — and the power of the gun lobby — but the string of tragedies that runs through the nation’s recent history speaks for itself. Common sense and a respect for human life seem to demand restrictions on guns.

But guns are merely the instruments of human savagery. Of equal concern is just what spawns such appalling violence. Predictably, the media has been blamed for its regular servings of mayhem and bloodshed. The Internet has come under scrutiny, too. One of the killers had a Web page that explained how to make bombs. Both killers participated in fantasy, role-playing games and used the Net as an outlet for their anger.

But as is often the case, it is clear — in retrospect — that the two young men were angry and disaffected. They had a reputation for petty cruelty, violent threats and a predilection for racism. They were part of a small clique that seemed to revel in alienation. Their penchant for Gothic styles also set them off from their peers.

Sadly, angst and alienation are all too often a part of adolescence. Only rarely do they overflow, however. There was no reason, in this case, to think that these youths would explode the way they did. In truth, there is no way to anticipate such incidents. This only reinforces the argument for gun control: Cut off the means by which these killings are carried out. In the meantime, the stunned residents of Denver must now try to put their lives back together and make sense of the senseless.

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