I can still remember the first time I heard about mass murder.
I was six years old in the summer of 1984, and I was in the living room as my family watched the NBC Nightly News and saw a story about a man who walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California and began opening figure with an assault rifle, killing twenty-one people before he was killed by police. I remember thinking how awful it would be to go into McDonald’s to have a Happy Meal, only to have that meal be my last one.
I couldn’t figure out why this man decided to take so many lives. I didn’t understand how he could get his hands on guns. I couldn’t comprehend how somebody could be so cruel or so crazy. Why? Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t this be stopped? My family was Christian, and I couldn’t figure out why God would allow this to happen. Didn’t God love the people who were killed? Why didn’t he reach in to save their lives? Why couldn’t he jam the killer’s gun?
I couldn’t understand how people could be so nasty, so violent. Why was there so much violence in this country and in this world? Why couldn’t people be nicer and kinder to each other?
To this very day, I cannot go past a McDonald’s without thinking about the San Ysidro shooting. I hate the fact that my mind flashes back to this incident, but I can’t control it.
Two years later, I was in the living room again with my family when a story came on about a postal worker in Oklahoma who shot up a post office and killed fourteen people before he killed himself. I couldn’t figure out why the government hadn’t taken steps to stop another mass shooting from happening, after what had happened at the San Ysidro McDonald’s two years before. I couldn’t figure out why another crazy man had been allowed to gain access to a gun. What was going on? Why was this allowed to happen again?
Two years after that, my heart–and the hearts of so many residents, black and white, in racially divided Boston–broke upon hearing of the death of Tiffany Moore, a 12-year-old girl who was caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout while playing with her friends. Did no one care about the guns? Did no one care about disarming the violent young men who were taking innocent lives, with weapons they should not have had access to?
Just five months after Tiffany Moore was shot to death on the streets of Boston, more children died as a result of unchecked gun violence, this time on the streets of Stockton, California:
A young drifter dressed in military fatigues opened fire with a semiautomatic rifle at children playing outside and others inside an elementary school today. Five children between 6 and 9 years old, all of them refugees from Southeast Asia, were killed and more than 30 people were wounded, about half of them critically, before the gunman shot himself to death.
The gunman, 24-year-old Patrick West, originally of Stockton, had an ”extensive criminal history” but the police had ”no idea” of a motive, said Lucian Neely, a Deputy Police Chief in this agricultural city 65 miles east of San Francisco.
”He was just standing there with a gun, making wide sweeps,” said Lori Mackey, who teaches deaf children at the Cleveland Elementary School.
She said she ran to her classroom window when she heard what she thought were firecrackers, and saw a man standing in the schoolyard, spraying gunfire from what turned out to be a Russian-designed AK-47 rifle. There were 400 to 500 pupils from the first to third grades playing at the noontime recess…
Mr. West, who sometimes used the name Patrick E. Purdy, had lived most recently in Lodi, about 15 miles northeast of here. Before that he lived in Sandy, Ore., a small town 25 miles southeast of Portland, where he purchased the AK-47 on Aug. 3., said Police Chief Fred Punzel of Sandy…
The gunman, dressed in battle gear and wearing a flak jacket, parked his car near the school, then set it on fire before entering the school grounds through a gap in a fence at about 11:40 A.M. He had two handguns and the AK-47, the police said.
As MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and CBS’s Lee Cowan have noted, the 1989 Stockton school massacre led to the United States temporarily coming to its senses on gun violence, only to revert to the wingnuttery that has stalled comprehensive federal gun reform–wingnuttery that bears direct responsibility for the coast-to-coast bloodshed that has sent so many Americans to early graves. Why did we lose our senses on gun violence? Why wasn’t our culture changed by that carnage in California? Why didn’t we care about human lives? Why didn’t we insist on the most aggressive efforts possible to dismantle the machinery of death?
Two and a half years after the slaughter in Stockton, another incident of mass violence caused me to lose faith in humanity.
(NEXT: Torment in Texas.)
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