By the time I was 12 years old, I was highly proficient with both rifles and handguns as a result of time spent learning to shoot at a camp I attended over several summers. My father belonged to the NRA and had a subscription to at least one gun magazine. We had guns in the house: two rifles and at least one handgun. Safety was paramount, and both my brother and I learned to respect firearms and the risk they presented if handled carelessly.
I didn’t give much thought to the societal impact of widespread gun possession until that awful day, November 22, 1963. I was a senior in high school and in my second period gym class when the teacher called us together and said – I remember his words precisely: “The President has been shot. Go take your shower and get dressed with dignity.”
Shortly after, the announcement came that President Kennedy had been fatally wounded. School was dismissed and my mother came to pick me up. When we arrived home, I went immediately to my bedroom, where I lay down and cried. If you are part of a generation that has followed mine, this may be difficult for you to imagine. But for us it was the sudden and devastating end to an era of idealism connected to the Kennedy Presidency that we had come to call “Camelot”. For my generation and even that of our parents, the world changed on that day and has not been the same since.
Over the four days that followed the assassination, the country sat, riveted to television, as the shocking aftermath played out with the killing of the murderer, Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. We watched in grief the funeral of the slain President. Lyndon Johnson, who bore no love for the Kennedys, was respectful and did his best to reassure a shocked nation that our country would all get through the ordeal. Many of us weren’t so sure.
It was then that I decided I would never shoot a firearm again — ever. I was 17, idealistic and impressionable when Kennedy was assassinated. Now I am 71 and in many ways much the same person I was in 1963. I have remained true to the vow I made back then. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, innumerable killings and mass shootings later – all of these have served to reinforce my resolve over the use of firearms as well as my disappointment over our collective, ongoing failure to deal with guns and the price we pay for misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.
The Second Amendment of the Constitution states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The NRA and its members and supporters conveniently ignore the “well regulated militia” specification of the amendment, stressing only “the right to keep and bear Arms”. In other words, few or, preferably, no, restrictions on gun ownership is the policy pushed by a powerful lobbying organization and supported by a large segment of its members and sympathizers The influence of the NRA and its gang of aspiring vigilantes has quite effectively stymied reasonable efforts at firearms regulation and, in so doing, has done much to enable both individual and mass murder in the U.S.
What can be done? It is abundantly clear that all the tears and hand wringing, prayers and speechifying after each new violent episode are useless in bringing action by a Congress that has been bought by the NRA. In fact, there really is only one solution, one that will, in fact, work. In the words of our deranged President, “Believe me.” But it’s not likely to happen anytime soon, unfortunately. That’s because what it will take is for an overwhelming public expression at the ballot box, electing candidates who stand for placing reasonable limits on gun ownership and, very specifically, the processes associated with acquiring guns and ammunition. Put simply, national policy won’t change until elected representatives in Congress – both the House and the Senate — are voted out of office and replaced by individuals who can’t be either intimidated or bought by the NRA. Those of us who vote simply aren’t a big enough group to produce the change without help from the largely apathetic segment of the population that doesn’t seem to care. Can they be mobilized? Today, it seems like a longshot.
I’m old enough, with my youthful idealism now tempered by a slightly cynical dose of realism, to understand that it probably won’t happen in my lifetime. Still, I can hope. After all and if it’s any indication, a lot of folks in Las Vegas may have changed their mind about speaking up after this past weekend’s mass killings.