Posted by: David Offutt | August 13, 2019

Reflections on the Recent Mass Murders (Part 1 of 2)

The massacre in El Paso, Texas, on August 4, 2019, was fueled by a hatred of Hispanics and immigrants. (Photo: Mark Raltston/AFP/ Getty Images)

Several years ago, my black and white shorthair cat Cody had an infected wound above his left eye, so I took him to my vet, Jim Ralston. Jim, a former classmate of mine, cleaned and probed the wound, amazed that Cody tolerated his probing so deeply into the cat’s head. Cody was always a good patient, very appreciative of whatever you were doing to help him. My late father had said of him: “He’s a remarkable cat.” Jim said, “It looks like someone shot him with a BB gun.”

Cody: He was full-grown when he showed up in my back yard during an ice storm in January 2000; he was at least 17 when he passed away in 2015. I still miss him. (Photo: David Offutt)

A few days later, from my back yard I heard someone firing a gun several times from across the back alley. Needless to say, I went to investigate. A black woman was in her back yard firing some kind of pistol at a target. I asked as politely as possible, “You aren’t the one who shot my cat with a BB gun are you?” She insisted that she would never do anything like that. She also never took target practice back there ever again. That was the end of that.

Fortunately, during my forty years of teaching, I got guns away from only two of my students. One was what I would call a regular rifle. This was in the early seventies in eastern Arkansas before assault rifles were so proliferate. It was also after school and late evening. The young man told his two female friends, also my students, that he was going to kill himself and locked himself in his bedroom. One of the girls called me because she was aware that I knew him pretty well – he assisted me during my prep period at school. He let me into his room and handed me the rifle without hesitation. I don’t think he would have gone through with his threat, but you never know.

The other gun was a pistol, in a Texas high school classroom and in the early nineties. I saw a black student holding a pistol and simply asked him to “hand me that thing.” He and the gun were taken to the principal’s office. Other than the young man denying that I got the gun from him, it was all resolved without incident. It turned out that a white student brought the gun to school and was showing it to the guy who got caught with it. The white guy received in-school suspension for a week.

All of this took place before the mass shootings at the schools at Columbine, Newtown, Parkland, and – you know – the list goes on. Now we have back-to-back mass murders in El Paso and Dayton to add to another long list of horrors (Orlando, et al.). With the current proliferation of assault weapons for the last fifteen years, we are doomed to this sort of thing for the next generation or two – optimistically, of course. If assault weapons continue to be made available, the mass devastation will continue into infinity with increasing frequency.

President Bill Clinton signed the last meaningful check on assault weapons in 1994. However, he also signed a bill that included the Dickey Amendment in 1996 that prohibited government research into the cause of gun deaths. (Photo: AP file)

In 1994 Bill Clinton signed a bill that banned the selling of assault weapons and high capacity magazines for ten years, but apparently it was filled with so many loopholes that it was difficult to enforce as it was intended. Compared to the mass murders with assault weapons in the last 15 years, it was a good start, but, as you would expect, it led to a lot of Democratic congressmen who voted for the bill to be defeated in NRA-dominated states and districts in 1994. George W. Bush and his Republican Congress, bowing obediently to the NRA, refused to even think about improving the bill to make it more effective and denied the Democrats’ attempt to renew it in 2005.

Jay Dickey, the Republican House representative from my own district in Arkansas, saluted the NRA and inflicted the Dickey Amendment onto the American people in 1996 – Democrats lost control of Congress in the Elections of ‘94. We all know why automobiles and highways have improved as far as safety is concerned. Whenever an accident occurs, investigations as to the cause are made and records are kept and used by the federal government to set standards. The Dickey Amendment prohibited the federal government from doing such research in gun-related deaths. Bill Clinton, shamefully, signed this stinkeroo of an amendment because it was part of a must-pass omnibus spending bill in 1996.

Jay Dickey, the representative for the 4th district in Arkansas, introduced the Dickey Amendment to a larger bill in 1996 and later realized the harm it did.

That amendment is still on the books, so any comprehensive gun safety bill on the federal level today is highly unlikely because of the ignorance and apathy that has been institutionalized and by the ownership of one political party en masse by the NRA. Common sense remediation is important – universal background checks and much more – but detailed statistics and data are conspicuously missing and much needed for truly effective legislation.

To his credit, former representative Mr. Dickey finally realized what a stupid and irresponsible amendment he had created and suggested that it be repealed. He did that shortly before his death in 2017. He was briefly my brother-in-law and a fellow dog lover (I have cats now), but, other than that, we had nothing in common – until his plea to repeal the only memorable contribution he made as a member of the House. So far, that turkey is still the law of the land.

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Responses

  1. “With the current proliferation of assault weapons for the last fifteen years …”

    According to FBI statistics, you are more likely to be killed by a stick than by any kind of rifle.

    “The mass devastation will continue into infinity with increasing frequency.”

    In fact, the U.S. is actually a very safe place, and there is no evidence that the rate of mass shootings is increasing. The homicide rate for whites in the U.S is about the same as in Canada or Europe.

    “Clinton signed a bill that banned the selling of assault weapons and high capacity magazines for ten years,”

    In fact, it merely banned certain weapons by name, and certain cosmetic features. Semi-autos were still legal as long as they changed their name and changed certain cosmetic features. In fact, sales of semi-autos increased after the Clinton law. Bill Clinton was an excellent gun salesman, second only to Barack Obama.

    As for the magazines, the bill banned the sale of newly manufactured magazines, but not the sale of pre-ban magazines — and there were millions and millions of pre-ban magazines in inventory — so magazines continued to be readily available. The bill was a nothingburger.

    “it was a good start,”

    A good start to what, exactly?

    “George W. Bush … denied the Democrats’ attempt to renew it in 2005.”

    In fact, W vowed to sign the Clinton ban if it reached his desk. David, do you recall which party controlled Congress during Bush’s last 2 years in office?

    “Detailed statistics and data are conspicuously missing.”

    In fact, the FBI keeps excellent records on homicides and the types of weapons used. The subject has been studied to death and is well understood. Meanwhile, the Dickey amendment does not prohibit anti-gun billionaires like George Soros or Michael Bloomberg from funding research.

    Mother Jones magazine — which as a privately funded entity is not restricted by the Dickey amendment — maintains an excellent database on mass shootings. According to the Mother Jones database, in 2018 only 28 people were killed in mass shootings that used an assault rifle. Is that your idea of an epidemic?

    Data is out there, David, and solutions are out there, too, but you won’t hear about it from the Democratic party (nor from the other corporate party). Here is a link to an excellent science-based article on the subject: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/primate-diaries/the-jokers-wild


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