Thursday afternoon, per order of President Barack Obama and Gov. Paul LePage, I ventured out into the cold rain and lowered the U.S. flag in my yard to half-staff to commemorate the 14 victims of last week’s shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California.

It’s an all too familiar routine, honed over a decade of mourning Maine soldiers lost to war and now American citizens lost to insanity. Yet this time, as I lowered the telescopic flagpole, transferred the flag to the bottom clips and raised it all back up again, a thought occurred to me.

Maybe I should just leave it that way.

Here in Maine, we’ve been lucky. We can debate until the cows come home whether last month’s fatal shooting in Oakland of Amanda Bragg, 30, Michael Muzerolle, 29, and Amy DeRosby, 28, by Herman DeRico, 42 – who then shot and killed himself – qualifies as a “mass murder” under the various and conflicting definitions now being bandied about.

Say what? You’d forgotten about that tragedy already?

So had I. I saw a dot on Maine on a national map of 355 “mass shootings” over the past year and had to look it up. Nobody ordered the flags lowered for those victims.

But at least here in Maine, we’ve been spared so far the Columbine, the Sandy Hook, the Virginia Tech, the Aurora, the Charleston, the Colorado Springs and now the San Bernardino – each an image of unspeakable violence that flows so seamlessly into the flower-filled sidewalks, the rivulets of votive candle wax and the demands that someone do something to end the madness.

Nowhere, however, not even here in Maine, have we been spared the fear.

I’ve long thought it was just my hyperactive imagination that often leaves me asking myself as I walk into a movie theater, a big box store or a supermarket, “What would I do if … ? Would I run? Hide? Attack the attacker, as Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson suggests, in the hope that enough others will join in that at least some of us might emerge unscathed?”

Truth be told, I have no idea what I’d do. But as of last week, I now know I’m far from the only person who thinks about it.

On the day of the San Bernardino shooting, The New York Times asked its readers, “How often, if ever, do you think about the possibility of a shooting in your daily life?”

“The number of responses was overwhelming,” the Times reported the next day. “More than 5,000 readers wrote to tell us about the anxiety they felt while riding the subway, going to the movies, dropping their children off at school and attending religious services.”

Wrote a teacher from Connecticut of her emergency shelter-in-place drills: “My classroom walls are entirely glass, so I must fit 17 children into a tiny, windowless bathroom (not as broad as my wingspan in any direction), and entertain them quietly (with poetry) until the all-clear. Sheltering takes organized practice; our space is so small each kid has to know exactly where to stand (three on the toilet seat, steadied by floor-bound friends, two on a box, two under a shelf). As the humidity rises, kids draw smiley faces on the fogged-up mirror.”

She tells them it’s all in case a tornado strikes.

At the other end of the spectrum is the young man from San Diego who carries his handgun wherever it’s legally permitted and thus feels “adequately prepared to respond to violent attacks.”

Echoing that strategy on Wednesday was Paul J. Van Blarcum, sheriff of Ulster County in upstate New York.

“In light of recent events that have occurred in the United States and around the world I want to encourage citizens of Ulster County who are licensed to carry a firearm to PLEASE DO SO,” Van Blarcum wrote on his department’s Facebook page.

Let’s set aside the slim-to-none chance an average citizen, armed with a small-caliber handgun and untrained in special weapons and tactics, might have against one or more shooters brandishing the .223-caliber, assault-style rifles used in last week’s attack.

What about the first responders, who do have the necessary firepower and training, storming the scene with no way to tell that this guy with a weapon is OK while that guy with a weapon isn’t? Throw more weaponry into one of these volatile situations and sooner, not later, the wrong person is going to get shot.

Which brings us, ad nauseam, to the questions that overhang this nation like a funeral shroud.

Why are the assault-style weapons, slightly altered to get around bans in some states but still just as lethal, legal for civilian ownership anywhere in this country?

Why, when an overwhelming majority of people here in Maine and around the country favor sensible gun control laws, do so many of our elected officials cower every time the National Rifle Association instructs them via mass email to vote against any and all such measures?

And why, one day after San Bernardino, did the U.S. Senate not only vote against requiring background checks for all gun sales (including all those here in Maine at gun shows and through Uncle Henry’s classifieds), but also said nay to banning gun sales to those who have already earned a spot on the nation’s anti-terrorism No Fly List?

Seriously? You can’t board a plane in or out of this country but you can, once here, buy a Smith & Wesson M&P15 rifle and armor-piercing ammunition with no questions asked?

I know from past experience that even raising these questions is enough to set off a firestorm of condemnation from those who see the Second Amendment as sacrosanct and any limits whatsoever on it as a step toward tyranny and blah, blah, blah …

But I also know that my flag, once again, is at half-staff through midnight on Monday.

And I know that sometime in the near future, I’ll be directed to go out and lower it again.

And much as I hope and pray otherwise, I suspect that one of these times the carnage won’t be a continent away.

It will be right here in our midst.

And hard as it may be to fathom, we’ll be the ones telling the media horde we never saw it coming.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

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