Guns

17

In the fall of 2010, a man by the name of Jared Loughner, a 22-year old Tucson, Arizona community college dropout began to obsess about a popular young member of the House of Representatives, from Arizona, Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords. Loughner had been exhibiting more frequent episodes of instability, some in the classroom, which resulted in his being asked to leave college. Although he had no expressed political leanings, Loughner gradually seemed to become exceptionally irritated by government and for some reason focused his attention on Giffords.

On January 8, 2011, Giffords was holding a small meeting with her constituents in the parking lot of a Safeway market in Casa Adobes, a neighborhood in the northern area of Tucson when Loughner approached with a Glock pistol loaded with a clip containing 33 rounds of ammunition. He walked directly up to Giffords and shot her in the head. He then shot 18 other people, killing 6, including Republican District Judge John Roll, and a 9-year-old child.  Loughner was evaluated and found unstable, with paranoid schizophrenic tendencies. He was held under treatment until mid-2012 when he was considered eligible for trial and was convicted of murder.

Nine people, including the 9-year-old, lost their lives to unnecessary gun violence that day. The promising political career and life of a beautiful young woman was changed forever, with partial loss of sight, some paralysis, speech…but it was generally considered a miracle that she was able to survive at all.  This carnage, the loss of a fine judge, the painful wounds of innocent bystanders, and the loss of a child, was all because of a madman who was able to easily obtain a rapid-fire weapon. 

 As we know, this was not an isolated incident. Nor was it even the first of many since the beginning of this century. Giffords and her husband, ex-astronaut and Senator from Arizona Mark Kelly have worked tirelessly since that day in an attempt to prevent incidents like the one that so damaged their lives and those of others. But the mass killings had already begun and would go on.

Even before the Giffords incident, sometime in the morning hours of April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Tech University, a young man named Heung-Sui Cho, armed himself with two pistols with 10 and 15-round clips of ammunition, and entered a dorm where he shot two people. He then moved to a classroom building where he chain-locked the doors shut, and then went from classroom to classroom, shooting professors and students alike. In all, he killed 32 people and wounded 17 others. Six others were injured trying to escape the gunfire. Then, as police arrived, he committed suicide by shooting himself.

Cho had a known history of mental problems which had resulted in in therapy during his high school years. At Virginia Tech he was accused of stalking two girls, and in the process of investigation, it was determined that he had some continuing mental issues that needed to be addressed. Yet, under Virginia law, his mental illness did not prohibit his purchase of two handguns.

Cho was a very distressed young man, and his suicide alone would have been a tragedy. But in his wild and chaotic moments, he killed several lovely young women, several professors, graduate students, not only from Virginia and other states but from other countries, who had come to this country to learn.  A renowned professor of engineering, 76-year-old Liviu Librescu, a Holocaust survivor at age 15, now barred the door to his second-floor classroom while most of his students were able to break open windows and jump to safety. Eventually Cho overpowered him, shot and killed him.

These were all valuable lives lost to foolish gun policies that could have been avoided by electing a government, which like those of other advanced countries, would not let even the chance of a pistol or military-style weapon fall into the hands of someone who could be deranged, even temporarily. But if people thought that bright young students and their professors were the worst type of victims, they had more rude awakenings coming later.

On July 20 2012, James Holmes, who, until a month earliear had been a graduate student at the University of Colorado, propped open the door of a movie theater in Aurora Colorado, an eastern suburb of Denver, and shot 12 people dead and  wounded 70 others. It would be the largest mass shooting in the United States by an individual in the country’s history to that time. Sadly, it would not be the last or the one with the greatest number of dead and wounded. Holmes was a disturbed individual who had been treated multiple times for various mental issues, beginning in middle school, and involving a suicide attempt at the age of eleven. Holmes was raised in California, graduated with honors from a UC campus, and had moved to Colorado and enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Colorado’s Medical and Public Health branch in Aurora.

At the midnight showing of a popular Batman movie at the Century16 Multiplex Cinema, he entered theater 9, through an exit door and sprayed 76 shots into the audience in only several minutes. This time, 12 people were murdered and 70 hit by weapons fire, and 82 injured overall.  Despite numerous individuals who had maintained that Holmes was unstable, even mentally ill, he had been able to purchase a Smith and Wesson semi-automatic weapon similar to an AR-15, a military or law enforcement modified shotgun, and a Glock pistol with an extended clip. He was also able to purchase over 3000 rounds of ammunition and some explosives on line.

The local police were on the scene in less than two minutes, took Holmes into custody and put him in jail on suicide watch. In 2015, he was sentenced to several life sentences without the possibility of parole. The NRA’s comment is lost to history, but we know their approach: more guns in the hands of more Americans. Their goal seems to be men with guns shooting other men with guns, a totally lawless society, where he who owns the most, best, fastest most lethal weapons is the law.

We do know that some of the NRA pointed to the 77 people killed by an individual with an automatic weapon in Norway, the year prior to the Aurora murders. They made the point that, even in Norway, a mass murder in which 77 people were killed could not be stopped. What was not mentioned is the fact that, in Norway, after that shooting, the annual total of those killed by gunshot wounds was probably not much greater than 78, whereas in the U.S. the total murdered by guns, after the 12 in Aurora, was something like 14,000, and the total dying from gunshots in one way or another totaled about 50,000, as many as die in auto crashes.

So, in Aurora, many more were shot than in other previous shootings, and hopefully that would be our maximum encounter with this kind of chaotic, irrational, catastrophic situation. But it was not. Not by far.

Even during the period that Gabby Giffords was recovering from her wounds, a 20-year-old, mentally disturbed individual, Adam Lanza was preparing a rampage. On December 14, 2012, Lanza, after shooting his mother four times in the head while she slept, drove to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He shot his way through locked glass doors, and began wandering the halls looking for victims. Using semi-automatic, rapid-fire military weapons, he shot the principal, the school psychologist other teachers and assistants, who tried desperately to shield the children with their own bodies, frantically hiding them in closets and behind barricaded doors. Lanza moved from room to room, using AR-15 semi-automatic weapons, fired 154 shots in less than five minutes killing 20 children, six and seven-year-olds and six adults. He then took a pistol as police arrived, and shot himself to death.  

This huge disaster did not move the legislative needle against gun ownership—the one single detail  connecting all mass murders—one infinitesimal bit. The National Rifle Association lobbied with the Republicans and some Democrats to keep anything meaningful, to keep any real safety measures from being enacted. So more people would needlessly die.  “Arm the teachers. Buy more guns and train teachers in how to use them.” That was the NRA’s solution. Of course it was. It was a solution that would sell more guns. An incredibly cruel, evil, and himself unhinged individual, still not institutionalized, Alex Jones, later claimed that the entire Sandy Hook child massacre was “a hoax.” He has finally been sued, defaulted, and trials for damages will be done this year.

In the following years, 2013, and 2014 there were dozens of shootings, on military bases, in navy shipyards and in colleges, 10, 15, 20 people killed or wounded. But then in December of 2015, in San Bernardino, California, we had a full-blown, home-grown terrorist attack. On December 2nd, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, one a Pakistani-American and the other a Pakistani-born U.S. resident, who had become radicalized by the Internet broadcasts reaching the U.S. from ISIS, walked into a training class and Christmas Party at the Inland Regional Center  and opened fire with military style weapons, on Farook’s fellow workers,  killing 14 people and wounding 22 others. Farook and Malik were disgruntled Muslims, who had traveled to Saudi Arabia and whom evidence proved had been radicalized. Farook was a health inspector for San Bernardino County, and he and Malik entered the building at the beginning of the health department Christmas party and opened fire. They escaped in an SUV and were later tracked down and killed by local police in a shootout. Although not part of any terrorist organization, evidence showed that the couple had been radicalized in a variety of ways, including Internet activities of ISIS. It was the first designated terrorist attack since 2001.

  But it wasn’t the last.  Omar Mir Seddique Mateen, another Muslim radicalized by the lies and misguided propaganda of ISIS, on June 11, 2016 entered the Pulse nightclub in the early morning hours, with a semi-automatic rifle and handgun. He shot and killed 49 people and wounded another 53. He was killed by police inside the club later in the morning. His motives were pure revenge, stoked by the influence of ISIS and Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadi. His first wife, who had left him almost immediately after marriage, said he was disturbed and physically abusive, and heavily on steroids. While he was yet another home-grown terrorist, the most deadly individual American terrorist in history, American Muslim terrorist, Mateen would surpisingly be dwarfed in his efforts by the incredible incident about to happen.

Stephen Paddock, 64, American citizen, gambler, multiple gun owner and dissident, lived in Mesquite, Nevada, not far from Las Vegas. Paddock was a real estate investor, retired, who had a variety of interests, including guns and airplanes. He had recently purchase dozens of AR-15 style weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition, often in 100-round magazines.

During the day, on October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock locked himself into two adjoining suites on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. He had already brought about 20 or so AR-15 or AR-10 rifles with automatic capability and 100-round magazines into the suite.  That night, from his window overlooking an area called Las Vegas Village, he fired over 1000 rounds into the crowd of approximately 20,000 attending the Route 91, Harvest Music Festival. In less than 10 minutes, he killed 60 people and wounded another 411 with gunfire. He then committed suicide, shooting himself with a handgun. It was the largest mass murder by an individual in United States history. In all, because of the wild scattering of the huge crowd, a total of 867 people were injured.

So that was it. Sixty people dead and 867 people’s lives damaged, some completely. Hospitalization, rehabilitation, pain, terrible suffering, life paths changed completely—all because of one madman with a couple of dozen automatic rifles, willing to give up his life to kill hundreds…and no one, not even the killer…knows why. It was the largest number of people killed in a mass murder in the country’s history. So, was this the end? Had we finally had enough? Did we come up with gun laws, finally recognizing that too many military type weapons were in the hands of potentially unstable people?

No we didn’t. About one month later, in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Devin Patrick Kelley, a convicted wife-beater, bully, dishonorably discharged from the Air Force, took several semi-automatic weapons into the First Baptist Church and shot 25 people to death and wounded 22 others before he was wounded himself by a bystander  and then took his own life. Kelley’s entire life was replete with arrows pointing to this very outcome, yet he was able to buy these weapons, while known by many as a violent, aggressive, personality, fully capable of shooting those with whom he had an altercation.

What were the political consequences? Gun laws? Not likely. The Governor and Attorney General of Texas suggested that churches get security guards, like nightclubs.

So, with the worst church shooting in our history, worse than the June 2015 Charleston Shooting of 9 African-Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a young racist named Dylan Roof, would we protect churches? Nope. Religion seems to have no particular distinction from mass murderers, when it comes to shooting people with guns.,

On October 27, 2018, in Pittsburgh at the Tree of Life synagogue, eleven Jews were shot to death and six others, including a few Holocaust survivors, were wounded. The shooter, Robert Gregory Bowers, had published various anti-Semitic posts on line and was clearly motivated by anti-immigration rhetoric, for which he somehow blamed Jews. He made comments such as, “Jews are the children of Satan” and spouted vicious anti-Semitic diatribes, said to have been inspired by rants from Right Wing Pittsburgh radio host, Jim Quinn. Bowers was shot multiple times at the scene by Pittsburgh police and was then indicted for murder and hate crimes and as of Jan 2022 has still not been tried, while he continues attempts to avoid the death penalty.

Well, we have it all, in this country, when it comes to guns. We kill the aged, the Holocaust survivor, children, even “unborn” children, and all matter of religious…Catholic, Jew, Baptist, Methodist, Muslim, and Black, White, Brown or anything in between…just so long as we can find any tiny justification to shoot.

Because the population of the United States as of this writing is approximately 330 million, and because, among that population we have ownership of some 393 million guns, we consequently have statistically about 1.3 guns per person. Shotguns, handguns, rifles, semiautomatic rifles and pistols, automatic weapons, and military-style machine guns are all in that inventory, most without any recognition by anyone that they are legally owned or that they are owned by people who are mentally stable.

National Rifle Association, and people who can only be thought of as barbarians, people living in the 21st Century but presenting to others as frontiersmen, gang members or criminals, have created laws about gun ownership in the United States that give every violent or crazed individuals the opportunity to shoot neighbors, women, children, random strangers whether in a church, a school, a home or a business.

The only thing that will prevent the madmen in our society from killing others in one of the roughly 13,900 murders in this country every year, is restriction of guns of all kinds. We may have different rules for different guns and different rules for different parts of the country or different areas of states. But until we get serious about the number of guns to which individuals have access, murders–including mass murders–will never stop.  

Some things are pretty clear. If we elect good officials in metro areas, why do we need handguns or military style weapons at all? We can remove the firing pins from these kinds of weapons when they are sold, and those who wish to use them for target practice may get the firing pins back at the range.

If we have a crime problem, then we need more police. If only the police have guns, then we are protected.  And young black men are better protected because there is no reason for the police to shoot an unarmed black man. We could, if we chose, increase penalties on police for unnecessary shootings. At present, unless we want police to act like military and risk their lives every day because we are too lazy to take guns away from irresponsible people, we have to reason to ask the police to stop shooting people.

A farmer does not need an AR-15. But a farmer may need a rifle or even a handgun. He or she may actually need one. There is no reason to create laws to prohibit farmers (we can easily designate who is a farmer0 from keeping guns in their homes. People in cities may feel that they need handguns for safety. They probably do not, especially if the sight of a gun in the hands of any citizen rings loud bells and prompts the immediate action of removing that gun and that individual from society for a long, long time.

 If we make the act of having a gun in your possession a crime in, let’s say a large metro area, we turn in guns, store them in safe-like armories marked for ownership, or perhaps destroyed at an individual’s request, then we can end most of the criminal activity involved with mass shootings. Crime will not go away. But neither will we, from being shot in a car or in a store  or a church or a school or from a stray bullet coming through a window.