The "Hello-Kitty AK-47"
When Charles Whitman lugged a duffel bag full of high-powered rifles to the top of the clock tower at the University of Texas and began picking off unlucky bystanders, leaving 14 dead and 32 wounded, the country was brutally shocked and our collective psyche was forever scarred. There had been mass murders before, but nothing like this: a random spree killing of innocents. The killer never discriminated between young or old, man or woman, he just shot everything that moved. The year was 1966, and for years following the disaster, a macabre national obsession with the tragedy produced a best-selling, minute-by-minute novel and a made for TV movie, creating stars out of the Texas Rangers that finally took the sniper down. Everyone knew from the Kinky Friedman country song that Whitman had a brain tumor and was an Eagle Scout, but only insanity could explain his murderous rampage. I recall news footage of the day of horror being repeatedly broadcast with each gruesome detail examined. The name Charles Whitman entered the lexicon as the prototypical mass killer and an avalanche of psychobabble followed concerning how to identify and stop these potential time bombs in the future before they exploded. After 43 years of heated discussion, we are now experiencing a Charles Whitman-like massacre once a week. Rage and spree killings have become as American as Mom, apple pie, and methamphetamine.
3/10/09; Sampson, Ala. "The worst rampage in Alabama history" began when a man described by friends as "a nice, quiet kid," armed himself with two military assault rifles, a handgun, and a shotgun, and began a multi-town slaughter that took 10 lives, including his parents and four relatives. When he opened fire on a True Value Hardware store, the owner said, "we realized what it was and grabbed our guns, but he was gone." A witness said he was wearing earplugs.
3/23/09; Oakland, Cal. A violent felon on parole used a handgun to murder two motorcycle policeman who had pulled him over for a traffic stop. When a SWAT team entered the apartment in which he was hiding, he killed two more before being shot himself.
3/29/09 Santa Clara, Ca. Six are killed and one injured in an upscale townhouse community by a man who shot his two children and three relatives with a .45 semi-automatic weapon, legally purchased two weeks previous.
3/30/09; Carthage, N.C. A nursing home is attacked by an armed man whose wife worked at the facility. An employee and 7 residents are killed and 4 wounded before the spree ends. A policeman is shot subduing the shooter. The victims' ages ranged from 78 to 98.And that was only March. This month's tally so far:
4/3/09; Binghampton, N.Y. A man blocked a rear exit of the American Civic Association and killed 13 immigrants taking a citizenship test. Four are wounded. The center had tried to help the unemployed immigrant whose two handguns were properly purchased and registered. The killer boasted of his murders in a letter to the newspaper.
4/4/09; Pittsburgh, Pa. A gunman in body armor and "lying in wait" ambushes police responding to a domestic disturbance with an assault rifle and two guns, killing three.Am I the only one seeing a pattern here? Yet it seems like the debate about restricting gun sales has already been settled. You rarely even hear it discussed anymore. It takes a high profile shooting or a massacre like Columbine to get our attention, and then the NRA moves in and showers money on the Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and the problem quietly goes away until the next time. Is it a coincidence that after Bush the Merciless allowed the Clinton era ban on assault weapons to expire, the incidences of multiple victims murdered in a short period of time, from Virginia Tech to Northern Illinois University, began to spike? If someone who is mentally disturbed can act right for a couple of minutes, they can buy a gun in America. Or perhaps all these rampage killers went crazy after they purchased their weapons. It's also worth a reminder, before someone goes all racial about it, that with a few notable exceptions, serial and spree murder is almost entirely the province of angry white males. Yet the Obama administration has expressed no desire to bring up further restrictions on assault weapons, or the kind of "street-sweepers" that should only be in the possession of SWAT teams or the military.
The war news continues to report murders, kidnappings, and beheadings, and that's just in Mexico. Aside from Coke and Colonel Sanders, weapons are the US's most popular export, including assault weapons like the AK-47, which is the preferred weapon of Somali pirates, thug gangbangers, and Mexican drug lords as well. The AK-47, or Kalashnikov, was adopted by the Soviet Army after the Second World War for its killing effectiveness. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, it became accessible to American "collectors." Now, there are more than 70 million in production and they even make them right here in the U.S.A. Some have Chinese wood stocks, but that's globalization for you. Secretary of State Clinton was criticized for admitting that assault weapons enter Mexico from the United States. Where else would they come from? We want the drugs, and guns and drugs go together like peanut butter and jelly. The automatic weapon and the handgun have replaced the automobile as the iconic American image. Our auto industry is on life support but the domestic sale of weapons is soaring, partially because of right-wing media goons spreading a mantra that says, "Obama is coming for your guns."
America is armed like never before and a rash of paranoia is spreading through the populace, the television news spends 50% of their airtime reporting crime, and carry permits have exploded in number. In Memphis, men packing weapons at restaurants are killing over parking spots, and you can't tell me that if someone has a gun in his glove compartment and feels threatened in a road rage incident, his first instinct won't be to reach for the weapon. I still recall the woman who put her purse on the counter of a Baskin-Robbins store, discharging her pistol and killing a high school coach who was buying ice cream for his children. Now there is a measure to allow permit holders to carry a concealed weapon into a bar. Even in old Dodge City, they collected the guns at the saloon door. I understand anyone's desire and right to possess a handgun for protection or a rifle for hunting, but no one needs an infantry weapon to ensure their family's safety. I am not the first to point out that if cars must be registered and drivers licenced, certainly firearms deserve the same serious attention. What sort of hypocrisy allows a nation's weapons manufacturers to churn out guns like Dunkin' makes doughnuts, but the switchblade is illegal? Commerce will triumph, but recent history shows that desperate times produce desperate people. We don't need to resurrect the Tommy Gun to accommodate their twisted revenge fantasies.