I’m a child of the sixties. Born the summer of 1961, I was barely a toddler when a bullet tore through the fabric of this nation and Camelot died. My family was glued to the television, devastated and hungry for news. I would have been there as well, playing with my toys as the tragedy played on. I imagine that I remember everyone crying for the nice man that was shot, and their shock when his alleged assassin was shot on live television. Maybe, somewhere in the depths of my consciousness, I do.
One thing I do remember is my friend who lived next door to my Grandma and Grandpa. Roger was an older boy, and he was nice. We played games on his porch. I recall eating ice cream as the cicadas relentlessly chirred, and the familiar sound of the gas pump dinging from the station around the corner. One day Roger was gone because he got shot in the back and died. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I missed him. He was just a teenager.
When I was four, we moved to Colorado and at five, I started school. Each night, the “CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” came on and he would say how many people died in a place called Vietnam. Sometimes there were movies from “the Front Line,” and he talked about the push for Civil Rights, anti-war protests, and Hippies.
Later, I learned more about Hippies, who were also called peaceniks, leftists, radicals, or worse. Parents warned us to stay away from “them” but never really said why. Protests were happening more frequently. “Make love, not war!” was the catch cry. My friends and classmates at school were often sad, and we talked in hushed tones about the brothers dying in the war, without truly understanding what that meant.
As I grew, the Hippies, the protests and the war were constants. And the assassinations. I was not yet seven when Dr. King died. Or when Bobby followed just two months later. I listened to the song “Abraham, Martin and John” on my transistor radio, sensing the sadness in the music and lyrics. “One Tin Soldier” was another favorite. Only in later years would I understand the depth of “Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend, do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.”
It seemed Hippies were everywhere in their groovy clothes, flashing the peace sign. They protested the war, made music that called for the end of war and violence. Kent State was their answer. “Four dead in Ohio…” echoed through the airwaves. The young girl, about my mother’s age, crying out next to a body lying on the pavement, “Why??!!”
The boys finally came home from war, not always welcomed warmly. The Jesus People movement hit the mainstream. “One way,” the self-proclaimed Jesus Freaks cried, holding up one finger, instead of peace signs.
And the violence continued. George Wallace; shot. Gerald Ford, two assassination attempts. Larry Flynt, shot by a White supremacist. John Lennon. Shot dead in front of his home by a crazed fan. Ronald Reagan and three others, shot by another crazed fan, this time trying to impress a young actress. Then there were the mass shootings. It never ended. We have a never ending supply of unbalanced people who have ready access to firearms to wreak their havoc.
One of the most constant things in my life has been the threat of a gun, and it’s taken me to this moment to truly realize it. No wonder I always felt my life would be changed by one. Why wouldn’t it be?
Today, I look at the state of us, the state of the US, and I wonder, “How did we let this happen?” I’ll tell you how. BY EVERYDAY PEOPLE NOT SPEAKING UP. By allowing weapons manufacturers to churn out cheap guns on a horrific scale, by allowing corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups like the NRA and the religious right to dictate the direction of our country and our lives, instead of common sense, and rules for the common good.
“Guns don’t kill people”, the Second Amendment/NRA clan shout, “People kill people!” Well, I say STOP giving people what may as well be drive through window service and access to the damn tools they use to kill each other so easily, and they’ll stop killing each other so easily, and with such deadly, blood-soaked force. Or perhaps that’s the goal. Fear is a great tool to sell the guns and ammo that feed a multi-billion dollar industry.
Wayne LaPierre, president of the NRA, preaches a false doctrine of fear and hatred from his bloody pedestal of gun worship. He stokes the fire, calling those of us who have been impacted by this kind of violence, this kind of loss, “clowns” because we seek common sense changes to our gun laws, so that others will not have to suffer like we do. How dare he? HOW DARE HE?
To quote Andrew Goddard, father of Virginia Tech survivor Colin Goddard: “Guns are the only consumer product subject to no design safety regulation, and no training, testing, registration or insurance are required before use. The Second Amendment is important, but it was not intended to create an excuse to oppose all reasonable public-safety measures. Guns do not cause criminality; they just make criminality more deadly.”
Our founding fathers lived in a largely agrarian society, where many hunted for their food, with single shot muskets and rifles that were often inaccurate and required a great deal of time to reload. And yes, this country was also founded (and sustained) through sheer willpower and guns. But today, we’re wielding weapons capable of mowing down an entire crowd of people before anyone can realize what’s happening and the NRA and Second Amendment defenders call it the same thing. “It’s our Constitutional right,” they shout. “You’ll pry our guns from our cold dead hands!” By their logic, the millions of cold dead hands who will never cradle a loved one again because of our rampant gun toting, violent society don’t enter into the equation.
Well, what about those of us who don’t want to always be wondering who is packing a gun, about who just might pull that gun and wreak blood-soaked havoc in our schools, in our offices, in our bars and clubs, in our Safeway parking lots? What about our right to not live in fear? To live peacefully, to gather peacefully? What about our rights???
Banning all guns isn’t practical, nor is it necessary as shown by other societies around the world who manage to have guns, and a relatively small level of gun violence compared to the U.S. There has to be some middle ground, some common sense.
In my state, virtually anyone can go to a Gun Show and buy a gun, hell, buy dozens of guns and extended magazines, all without any sort of background check or questions asked. And stay inside the law, right up to the second the gun is pulled and used to shoot a Congresswoman of the United States in the head, and callously mow down peaceful citizens waiting to speak to her. To shoot and KILL a nine-year-old girl and five others. To wound and emotionally scar the survivors and the families and friends left behind. Just one incident in our everyday blood festival.
In the aftermath of Tucson, Arizona and many other states want to make it even easier for anyone, anywhere, any time to buy a gun or an extended magazine, no questions asked. These callous and shameful “public servants” are pushing for a world where everyone is armed with the weapon and extended firepower of their choice, and the majority of them have an (R) next to their names. It’s sheer madness. And it’s time for it to stop.
How do we continue to get it so wrong? And I have to ask…where have all the Hippies gone? Are they so entrenched in their comfortable, corporate lives and retirements that they’ve forgotten what they stood for in their youth? Do they not believe in peace and love and non-violence anymore? Did they raise their children to believe in and worship guns?
As Gary Trudeau pointed out in Doonesbury, a voice that sprang from the heart of the Hippie Generation, the United States started two bloody wars and spent TRILLIONS of dollars because 3000 people were killed in the attack of 9/11. (Do it in the name of heaven, you can justify it in the end.) Since 9/11, more than 270,000 Americans were killed by gunfire on our own shores. If that’s not a war, I don’t know what is. And if Gary Trudeau’s piece is not the roots of a generation calling out and saying “Wake up! Snap out of it!” I don’t know what is.
Where are your protests? Where is your outrage? Haven’t we all seen more than enough violence in our lifetimes? Where is your dream of a better, more peaceful America? Don’t let it die on the blood-soaked pavement of Safeway parking lot.
Call your elected officials in your state, and in Washington. Be heard.