Yesterday a child came out to wander
Caught a dragon fly inside a jar
Fearful when the sky was full of thunder
And tearful at the falling of a star
And the seasons they go round and round and
The painted ponies go up and down
We’re stranded on a carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round in the circle game
When I was a young person I hated going to school. It took me a long time to truly appreciate the value of an education, but my disaffection with school had very little to do with learning and more to do with an abiding affection for my mattress. I was extremely intolerant of my over insistent alarm clock and my mother who was absolute in her convictions that my laziness should be assailed at any and every opportunity. I would say she was tough as nails but that would be over estimating nails.
My attitude regarding school was simple, juvenile and not uncommon. To be clear, (an expression one of my very younger friends uses with great abandon) my reluctance regarding school was just that, a general reluctance. I was never afraid of school. Even the nuclear bomb drills where we all had to sit under our desks in mock preparation for the coming Soviet missile attack never frightened me or from what I could perceive, any of my classmates. Even as a small child I understood that a desk was not going to be sufficient to protect me from an atomic explosion. I had seen the pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My classmates and myself found these exercises amusing and a welcome escape from the drudgery of the typical Catholic school day. But I don’t believe any of us seriously ever contemplated the idea that one day someone would come rampaging through the halls with a semi-automatic rifle intent on ending both our educations and lives.
When Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris walked into their Columbine High School in Colorado on April 20, 1999 and proceeded to brutally murder and critically injure their fellow students before turning their guns on themselves, most Americans were shocked; less than twenty years later such occurrences have become almost commonplace.
After the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 many Americans believed and hoped a corner in the firearms discussion this country so desperately needs to have and yet somehow cannot, had been turned. The debate will never get off the ground if there are those among us who continue to view this not as the public health issue that it is and rather as a grand attack on the 2nd amendment itself which it isn’t and has never really been.
Assault weapons such as the AR 15 have no place in a civilian’s hands. Eliminating the availability of one weapons group does not deny the right of armed self-protection for millions of Americans with a variety of other weaponry. The 2nd amendment’s language called for an armed citizenry, or a militia to protect the homeland in the face of attack as we lacked at the time of its composition a standing army. Today we have a standing army. We also have a navy, a marine corps, an air force and a coast guard and they are all very well equipped. A friend of mine is fond of saying that he would love to hear one of the pro assault weapons politicians stand up and draw for him a scenario where the use of an AR 15 would be practical and reasonably possible today. How much good would an AR 15 be in the unlikely event that a foreign army pulled up onto his drive way with tanks? He jokes about yelling to his wife “Honey break out the AR 15’s, there’s Sandinistas in front of the house”. Putting aside the fact that the Sandinistas were voted out of power in Nicaragua in 1990, he makes a good point. Our military is formidable, look at the latest budget submitted for it if you still need convincing.
Still, the 2nd amendment is with us for good and the idea of eliminating it completely is a politically ridiculous and impossible proposition. Guns are ingrained in our culture and in the accepted interpretations of the amendment. But no right is unlimited and they all come with responsibility. A little nuance when it comes to the use of deadly weapons is not a bad thing.
Then there are those who believe these weapons are needed as protection from our own government. As evidence of this threat they point to the Waco standoff and the Bundy situation conveniently putting aside the fact the Bundy’s were illegally using federal land for grazing and not paying the required fee and that this practice had been going on for some time before the government stepped in to enforce a court order.
And now the Florida legislative bodies engage us with a bait and switch scheme designed to sell the proposition that the trouble with the sale of assault rifles has more to do with the ability to purchase them according to age and not the mere ability to purchase them at all. Their legislative effort raises the age of purchase for AR 15’s and semi-automatic weapons from 18 to 21 while completely ignoring the fact that the average age of a mass shooter in this country is 35. Sure, such a measure would have taken the gun out of the hands of 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz but it would not have taken the 23 firearms, 14 of them AR 15’s out of the hands of 64 year old Stephen Paddock the national record holder for mass killings. The record holder before him was 29-year-old Omar Mateen who shot up a nightclub in his curtailment of 49 lives. That event as well happened in the Sunshine State.
To be clear, there are good things in the bill. It creates a waiting period of three days or until a background check is completed. My own opinion is that the waiting period should be somewhere along the lines of when hell freezes over. But it’s a start. It bans bump stocks, those devices that allows for semi-automatic weapons to fire like automatic weapons. It would allow for the voluntary arming of school personnel including teachers, a proposition which most teachers seem to indicate they will not be volunteering to take advantage of. The bill also would allow for increased funding for school security. Outside of the arming of teachers. It would also budget more money for mental health services and would allow for the temporary confiscation of weapons from people deemed to be a possible threat to themselves or others. It is likely the first time that Florida state government has collectively stood up in any way to the NRA whose political stranglehold on Florida legislators is legendary. This is a very good thing. To understand better just how tight that hold is I suggest Mike Spies inspired profile of Marion Hammer in the March 5 edition of The New Yorker. It is expected that Florida governor Rick Scott will sign the bill. We’ll see. But it is a start.
Still the bill does not go far enough. As stated the bill does not ban the sale of assault rifles, instead banning them only from those under 21 years of age. There was a rider considered that would have suspended the sale of AR 15s for two years as a study on them was done, but it never made it into the final bill. The sale of AR 15s therefore continues mostly unabated. It does not ban high capacity magazines which may contain as many as 100 bullets to a clip. It does not strengthen background checks. But at least the NRA is finally getting some push back and that effort should be supported.
Let’s go all the way and raise the age to about 200, because the real problem has nothing to do with age but with availability. Period. Focusing completely on the youth for a problem essentially created by people who call themselves adults is both disingenuous and insulting at this time when the only people showing true courage and resolve on this issue are the people who still must abide by their parent’s curfews. The attention to school safety in these matters is right and proper but too often it obscures the fact that this is a problem that goes beyond age regarding both the perpetrators and the victims. The fact is we are all at risk. Stephen Paddock did not shoot up a school. He opened fire on a music festival from a hotel room on the Vegas strip. He outfitted his already lethal equipment with bump stocks, essentially turning his semi-automatic weapons into fully automatic ones.
Meanwhile in Kansas, a state whose finances were so badly mangled by Sam Brownback that he had to pull $45 million from Kansas schools to plug a series of other holes in his state’s budget after his disastrous supply side economic experiment failed; at least six high school students have decided to run for governor. They come from across the political spectrum, some Democrats, some Republican and even Libertarian, and they have brought a new dimension to political discussion in these polarizing times, a willingness to listen to each other and explore the lost art of compromise. Despite Gov. Brownback’s best efforts to stifle education in Kansas the spirit of these kids won’t be quelled. Of course, the reaction of the “adults in the room” was to make every effort to change the election laws to keep these kids out. The kids are not old enough to vote but there is nothing in the Kansas state constitution forbidding them from running for office. How typical for the establishment political powers to do everything in their power to eliminate sensible competition.
There is a reckoning coming. The moans of here we go again are suddenly being drowned out by shouts of never again. This November a tidal wave of newly qualified voters will be pulling up to their polling places and pulling a lever or circling a dot. Next year another wave will reach their electoral majority, and in 2020 still another and the 26th amendment to the United States Constitution does not allow for their voting rights to be raised to 21. The phonies that be have less to fear from 18-year olds with an AR 15 than they should from their access to a ballot.