19,190 Days

 

On October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock, using an AR-15, semi-automatic assault style rifle, among other weapons, shot and killed 58 people from his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, situated on the Las Vegas strip. His randomly chosen targets were across the way, just past Las Vegas Boulevard, attending an outdoor country music festival. The best estimate of how long his rampage lasted is ten minutes. Over 800 people were wounded. By the time police stormed his room, Paddock had killed himself. This incident claimed the most lives of any prior mass shooting.

The 58  dead and 850 or so wounded was a stunning, horrifying event. To many Americans of a certain age, however, the word shocking may not have been the primary emotional response. After all, mass shootings are not exactly uncommon in the United States. In fact, such killing sprees have become, well, relatively speaking, rather ordinary, as a classification of such crimes.

How Ordinary? I have noted 17 such incidents between 1966 and as recent as February 14, 2018, ranging from the 58 in Las Vegas to 9 victims in 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina. There are about another 15 such events that took the lives of several people during this same time frame. When researching these sickening statistics, I did experience a moment of emotional shock, but that response was a factor of how many more times this sort of  crime has occurred than I suspected.  Being one of those “Americans of a certain age,” I thought I could give a pretty good guess at the actual number, but more than 30?! 

The high school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida, while totaling not even one-third of the Las Vegas dead, has apparently–and finally?–set in motion an angry and highly visible reaction from many of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors. These are high school students demanding congress finally stand up to the NRA and its pro-gun (including AR-15 and such) agenda. As I blogged a few years back in relation to the NRA and its rather blatant ability to cower most congress critters into bending to its will, that after 21 six and seven-year old children were slaughtered using an assault-type weapon at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, and congress refused to pass even a wimpy upgrade of background checks on those seeking to purchase guns, that the NRA had won. Game over.

Twenty-one 6 and 7 year olds, literally ripped apart by the use of a military-style weapon?! And congress does nothing?!

So, I am cautiously optimistic that perhaps the NRA may have encountered part of our citizenry that won’t back down from the NRA. Those teens! Their ideals and righteous indignation are bullet proof, one might say.

And yes, it is about time congress, collectively, that it grows a damn backbone and place the value of a life over the blood money they get from the deep-pocketed NRA.

While Parkland is still fresh in our memory, it having occurred on Valentine Day of this year, a distant or non-existent memory for many is an event that took place on August 1, 1966, 19,190 days earlier. That hot summer day in Austin, Texas, on the campus of the University of Texas, found Charles Whitman, and ex-marine sharpshooter, managing to take an arsenal of weapons up near the top of the campus clock tower, some 231 feet above ground. He proceeded to launch a sniper attack on random targets, mostly young college students, for 96 minutes. By the time two police offices worked their way up to Whitman’s sniper nest, and shot him dead, 14 people lay dead and dozens of others were wounded. Ultimately, as time passed, a total of 17 people would be counted as his victims from his attack. Ironically, the same number of dead as from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school on Valentine Day.

I sense a certain bitter irony connecting Whitman’s 17 victims from Nikolas Cruz, the perpetrator of the 17 dead from MSD high in Parkland, Florida. Whitman, using a M-1 military carbine, chose a college campus to commit his carnage. Cruz, using an AR-15, took less than 10 minutes. The students killed by the Tower shooter were outside of classrooms, casually strolling the campus area below Whitman’s position, while Cruz’ were inside classrooms. The M-1 is an authentic military weapon, eventually replaced by the M-16 military assault weapon, which the AR-15 somewhat shares in its design and manner of discharging its bullets. Whitman was a sniper, and while randomly picking targets, was invisible, essentially, to those below who slowly realized what was happening. Cruz simply went into the school and started shooting his semi-automatic AR-15, and it took only seconds for the students and staff to realize what horror was being visited upon them.

How are the two events, 19,190 days apart ironic? August 1, 1966. The Tower killings absolutely sent shock waves throughout the country. What reason did Whitman have to dispassionately murder innocents below his perch? Was he crazy? Of course, he was. But he was a crazy person who had that M-1 (and other weapons). Cruz, still among the living is crazy. The approximate 500 people shot dead by someone with one type of weapon or another over those 19,190 days were virtually all random victims of the now generic crazed gunman. A university here or there, a high school here or there, a cafeteria, a church, a Buddhist temple, a nightclub, a McDonald’s, a naval yard, a military base, a regional center, a movie theater, an elementary school. Here or there. And so…

…Is anyplace really safe?

Not really. A naval base in Maryland? A military base at Ft.Hood, Texas? Not even those places were safe from a crazy with a gun. Not encouraging! These killings. Crazy, indeed.

And  the NRA somewhat agrees! Its various babblers talk about about these mass shootings being a mental health issue. Bad people with guns. Crazy people. Guns don’t go crazy on their own. That’s impossible, right?But a crazy person with easily legal access to anything from a .22 caliber pop gun to those AR-15s, would seem to have an “accomplice” before, during and after the act of shooting up random places, here and there, most anywhere. If another person in any way aided the mass shooter he or she would be charged with aiding and abetting first-degree murder. So, the material, mechanical matter of a weapon that can shoot bullets one at a time or rapidly fire, is certainly a accomplice.  The NRA and congress, however, seem not to want to hold the weapon of choice accountable, ever, unlike a human being who helps facilitate a crime.

Crazy, eh? Bull goose loony nuts, yeah, methinks. From Whitman in 1966 to Cruz in 2018, this country has become ever and ever-more increasingly gun crazy. It’s the 85 ton, Kevlar vest-wearing, gorilla in the room, okay? That gorilla insists that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” in spite of the fact that those “people” with a gun or AR-15 in their hand, couldn’t possibly be as lethal in their expression of madness, now played out in smaller increments of time without them. Those weapons of mass destruction are here and there, and seemingly everywhere. 

Sure, mental illness is a de facto reality when asking “why did this happen?” but the bigger question is why is a crazed gunman’s constant companion the type of  device designed primarily to kill other humans, not considered the more significant issue here than whether or not mental illness, uh, triggered their manner of expressing disappointment, disapproval, writ large or small?

Well this Boomer wants to believe that those teenagers from Parkland, and their counterparts from around the country who walked out of classes for 17 symbolic minutes this week, are just CRAZY enough to stand their ground and force the gun lobby and its bought-and-paid-for government mouth pieces to engage in sincere and sane consideration of their demands. Their demands are quite simple: why should so many people, whether in church or school, or a mall or restaurant, a movie theater or walking causally on campus grounds have to wonder if the next crazy person with a gun will somehow, randomly decide that killing them solves anything? So, DO something to protect us, protect everyone! Sounds sane to me.

Or am I crazy to think this time, things will truly be different?

 

 

 

 

  

About jharrin4

mass communication/speech instructor at College of DuPage and Triton College in suburban Chicago. Army veteran of the Viet Nam era.
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2 Responses to 19,190 Days

  1. Your fresh perspective makes this decades long reality appear even more horrific than I realized, because it is. Let’s hope you are right and that after almost 20,000 days, the American people are being prodded to wakefulness by high school students committed to bring about change at long last.

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  2. Julie Samuels says:

    Yes,Joe, I think you might be crazy – at least I hope so. However, there is a lawmaking system here, that is encouraging young folks to think they can make change. They have struck the match but they may not find the way to start the fire. That would require heat in the legislatures -local, state and federal…and it already seems to be cooling – at least in the media – and that’s where the cooling takes place and spreads. The sad fact is, it’s not only the NRA that needs to be happy, it’s corporate America, where manufacturers have been able to donate so much money to favored war-loving politicians that they have redirected 65% of our entire federal budget to the military – ie- guns, guns and more guns (plus planes, bombs, ships and…more). Sadly, If we get them to reduce the military budget (ie: fewer gun$), the Corporatacracy won’t donate to any sane, peace loving lawmaker who seeks re-election. These folks see politics as their “job” and donations their “pay”. So, if they work to end war around the world or as we have seen, even here at home, they won’t get rich and they may even lose their “jobs”. There are 330,000,000 guns in our “home” – this old US of A. (Unable to Stop the Arms). Please be crazy!

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