THE EPPERHART EXPRESS-The cover of Life magazine on August 12, 1966 featured a bullet hole in a store window caused by Charles Whitman, whom they dubbed, “The Texas Sniper.” The 25-year-old Whitman was an All-American boy who was an Eagle Scout and Marine Corps veteran. On August 1, 51 years ago, he carried a footlocker containing a shotgun, three rifles and two pistols up to the 29th floor observation deck of the University of Texas administration building in Austin and started shooting.
Whitman killed 12 and wounded 31 before police got close enough to shoot and kill him. Life devoted the cover and a dozen inside pages to the story, which included these words, “What Whitman was doing was so outrageous, so hard to grasp, that people could not believe it.”
Now everyone can believe it.
Since Whitman’s rampage in 1966, Americans have awakened to stories of mass shootings in schools, theaters, night clubs, and concerts. Anywhere there is a crowd, disturbed people with easy access to powerful weaponry can wreak carnage on innocents.
As the numbers of dead and wounded continue to rise, there have been calls to restrict access to increasingly deadly weapons. Sometimes government has responded. Federal gun laws were adopted in the 1930s to keep machine guns out of the hands of gangsters. In the 1960s, tighter regulations were placed on gun dealers and convicted felons and the mentally ill were not allowed to buy weapons.
Pushback against gun regulation ramped up in the 1980s as the gun lobby jumped on the Republicans’ anti-government bandwagon. The Second Amendment became a sacred creed for “real” Americans. Guns were not only necessary to protect you from criminals; they were also needed in case the liberals in Washington came to raid your arsenal. Whatever the reason, Americans buy guns -- lots and lots of guns. Civilians in the U.S. own about 270 million guns. About 640,000 are legally-owned and registered machine guns. That’s in a country with a population of 323 million.
What happened in Las Vegas is tragedy on a large scale. Stephen Paddock was able to kill 59 and wound more than 500 because of the easy availability of high-powered firearms and ammunition. The dealers who stocked his arsenal enabled his crime, but those most culpable of aiding and abetting this mass murder are the politicians who pretend ready access to guns played no part in the events of October 1.
The fact that Republicans in Congress scheduled a vote this week to make silencers legal (claiming it will prevent hearing loss in those who frequently use guns) tells you all you need to know about the mendacity of the GOP. Their denial is what turns this tragedy into farce.
Former Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly said the deaths of those killed in Las Vegas is the “price of freedom.” He wrote in his blog that even “loons” have a right to bear arms thanks to the Second Amendment. This from a man who writes books usually featuring the word “killing” in the title.
Those gunned down in Las Vegas aren’t martyrs to the Constitution. They didn’t die for a noble cause. They didn’t fall defending freedom or the United States of America. They were murdered by a madman who was equipped to kill because people like Bill O’Reilly think anybody should have the right to possess firepower capable of mowing down a lot of human beings in a short amount of time. Those who died at the Route 91 Harvest Festival are victims sacrificed on the altar of the NRA and Republican Party.
Americans don’t need to worry about foreign terrorists, Islamic or otherwise. There’s lots of danger from their own neighbors who, thanks to the cowards in Congress, have plenty of access to guns. Nothing will change and many more will die in vain. Maybe O’Reilly’s next book should be called Killing Each Other.
(Doug Epperhart is a publisher, a long-time neighborhood council activist and has served on the Board of Neighborhood Commissioners. He is a contributor to CityWatch and can be reached at: Epperhart@cox.net) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.