AT LENGTH - I distinctly remember my first day on the job at the Pacific View halfway house for the mentally ill. I was 23 and just had taken a part-time job while attending college. I was excited about starting a new job. And, as I recall, the day started out normally, except that within the first hour the young Latino director took me aside to explain that one of the residents, a young schizophrenic man, had somehow snuck a loaded rifle into the facility and blown his brains out in the bathroom. For obvious reasons, he didn’t want me to see the aftermath, and with a bloody rag in hand, explained few details.
Only later, did I come to learn that this mental patient had simply walked into the Union War Surplus shop down on Sixth Street, paid cash for the gun, no questions asked and carried it back to the home, which had no security. This was before the days California background checks became the norm. With today’s gun laws, both felons and the mentally ill are barred from buying weapons at retail stores. In retrospect, I now realize that things could have ended up way different.
Moreover, as I look back on growing up in America, it seems like my entire life has been punctuated with tragic murders that stand out as national historic markers. The assassinations of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy are shared experiences of my generation. I can tell you exactly where I was the moment I heard the news of each of these tragic events, as can most of you.
I am not sure that it ever gets any easier or that any of us can make any greater sense out of these kinds of violent acts, whether they are political assassinations by lone gunmen, conspiracies or mass murders by the mentally deranged.
In the end the shock of the moment seems to incapacitate our rationale and confront us with our own national hypocrisy.
While we celebrate our secular and religious national faiths, espousing “Peace on Earth,” our most conservative law and order brothers contend that posting armed guards at every school is the solution. They even suggest that giving school principals guns could be a deterrent. Even Texas Gov. Rick Perry, expressed support for allowing teachers to carry guns on campus.
Knowing the teachers and school administrators in my life as I do, I am not so sure that they are any more capable, or more mentally stable, than any other category of citizen to be packing heat!
Nor do I believe that the presence of Los Angeles Police patrol officers in schools, as Chief Charlie Beck has recently ordered, is any more of a deterrent to violence. Much of this seems to be knee-jerk responses for media attention and not well considered policy. Do we really wish to create the same kind of police state mentality that occurred after 9/11 with the so-called Patriot Act? I still resent being scanned and patted down at every courthouse, government building and airport.
On the liberal side of the discussion, the idea of outlawing or even buying back any significant percentage of the 100 million or so guns in America is practically impossible and particularly ludicrous. We are a nation born of violent revolution, a nation redeemed by the bloodiest of civil wars.
As Americans, we continue to enunciate an “exceptionalism” backed freedom, supported by the most technologically advanced war machine in the history of the world. We fundamentally believe as a nation that peace and freedom can only come from the barrel of a gun and that justice is, in part, meted out with the use of controlled violence. Ultimately, we believe that good will triumph over evil by way of the sword. These are powerful beliefs, embedded deeply in our national creed and our brand of freedom and liberty. Nothing, short of a national catharsis, will ever change any of this.
I don’t own a gun and I have never killed another human being. But I can imagine it. I see it on TV all the time. I have become inoculated to the shock value of blood and violence on screens, large and small. Yet, when it really happens, I am as stunned as anyone. I don’t support the death penalty and have opposed the vast majority of wars our country has fought with the exception of perhaps four.
The rest, in my opinion, were unnecessary blood lust for economic supremacy and political gain. But, here we are again, standing with blood on our hands from the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the nation is crying.
(James Preston Allen is the Publisher of Random Lengths News and an occasional contributor to CityWatch. More of Allen and other views and news at randomlengthsnews.com where this column was first posted) –cw