The writer as a 7-year old, and his grandfather in 1950, Pope Valley, CA.
The writer is shouldering his own .22 Winchester rifle.
When the news came to me I was happily engaged in my favorite lousy weather activity, which is tying trout flies for next season. I have my fly tying bench set up against a window which looks out on 20 acres planted to fescue grass for seed. Even in the worst weather, it's peaceful and wonderful to look out on as I go along tying up feathers to fishing hooks.
My son came into my den and asked if I had heard the news. “What news?” I asked.
“There's been a shooting in Connecticut. Some whacko just killed a bunch of kids in a school. They're saying something like 28 people were shot to death.”
I sat at my bench, stunned. All I could manage was an audible Oh my God! and I just turned my gaze out the window, staring at the green field with the rain falling gently on it and wondering what had happened. I didn't want to go to the television, which was carrying the thing everywhere on the dial. I just want to be by myself and think. Just three days ago, right here in Clackamas, a few miles north of here, another deranged shooter walked into a popular shopping mall and shot two people to death with an assault rifle. Surely, I thought, this was one of those “copy cat” events the authorities always talk about. Finally, I got up and turned on the radio and got details as they were being reported, while at the some time going to the New York Times website for whatever they had on it.
And so in the space of a week, 30 good people's lives were snuffed out by two crazed men on opposite sides of America. Among them were 18 children, not one of whom was older than 10 years of age. I was nearly physically sick. And I was in tears; something which is very rare for me.
The rest of the day I thought about this event, and the one here in Oregon, and the one in Aurora, Colorado, and the one in Springfield, Oregon (another where the teenaged shooter killed his parents and two schoolmates) not too many years ago. Weirdly perhaps, I also thought of the recent election season and all the hatred and discontent that it raised from the muck that is present day America.
I despair. I am getting to the point of losing hope that civility in this country will ever return. Our lack of it shows up in our popular music, in our art, in our movies and our theatre. I am coming to the conclusion that we Americans have been coarsened by endless war, endlessly being lied to by our leaders, and endless episodes of killings which have no apparent reason to occur. People call the murderers “whackos.” That's the best any ordinary person can muster up in the way of trying to make sense of these massacres. It is too much for plainfolk like me to make sense of, because there is no sense to it.
Somewhere between 30 and 40 thousand Americans lose their lives by gunshot every year - about the same number as those killed in automobile accidents. I used to believe that restricting ownership of guns was a way to curb these kinds of events but I don't think so any more. There are just too many guns out there: some 300 million in circulation, more than there are citizens of the United States. There are guns out there ranging from small caliber, single shot rifles to the latest assault weapon; from 5 shot revolvers to 16 shot, semi-automatic pistols. We are the most heavily armed society in human history and what do we get for all those 300 million weapons? We get 40 thousand dead Americans. And we get “whackos” who seem to find some kind of special pleasure in taking as many with them as they can before turning their guns on themselves.
We will all cry our tears. Many of us will sign this or that petition to ask our leaders to enact legislation to at least try to get a restriction on the types of weapons legally sold in this country. We will go to vigils, write in our blogs, ruminate, talk about it, and in the end, all will return to business as usual. Our elected representatives, ever cowards themselves, will wring their hands, speechify their regrets and they will do nothing. They will do nothing because they value their jobs more than they do reason and courage and honesty. They are sellouts, most of them. In this instance, and in every other issue in which ordinary people are most affected, the people we elect to do our business evidently have other agendas to attend to.
I wonder who we are sometimes. Actually I wonder a lot of the time. The entire American culture has changed in every way in my nearly 70 years. We love our freedom but it comes at a terrible cost, I think. We don't like restrictions. From speed limits to being able to get a new AR-15 at the local gun show; from 35 foot RV's which guzzle hydrocarbons to setting aside land and protecting wildlife for future generations to love – at some level we chafe at having to do something which benefits someone else, whether it's allowing a background check before buying a gun or paying for Obamacare.