As I sit here on an overcast Sunday afternoon writing my column, I do so still carry the horrifying memory of the tragic events which occurred only a few weekends ago in El Paso, Texas and Dayton Ohio.
These horrific events tear at the very fabric of the soul of this great nation. The images of families huddled on the floor, their lifeless bodies gathered together showing the sacrifice of a family member who gave their life to shield a young child, some successfully, others not so fortunate, cannot help to shake and bewilder you.
My first such memory of such a senseless tragedy such as this revolved around the equally tragic massacre which took place at the University of Texas Tower Shooting in Austin, Texas on August 1, 1966. I was getting ready to enter my senior year of high school in September of that year.
Charles Whitman would leave the lifeless bodies of his mother and wife, who he had stabbed to death the night before at home and made his way to the campus of Texas University. Here he would make his way up 29 floors to the Tower Observation Deck. In the end, Whitman would murder 13 people that day, and injured another 31 others, before authorities shot and killed him. One additional victim finally succumbed to their wounds in 2001
Whether it was this mass shooting 53 years ago, the ones two weekends ago, the terrible carnage in Las Vegas in October 2017, the slaughter at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012 or the terrible melee in Parkland, Florida at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February of 2018 we continue to react in disbelief. We still continue to grieve for the loss of innocent lives and mourn for so many wonderful individuals who saw their lives cut so tragically short and never reached their potential.
You could go on to continue to list one event after another and you will hear the same rhetoric flow out of the talking heads in media on the radio and television, looking to cast blame and further their own political causes. The same goes for politicians attempting to make cheap points to further their own agendas. We keep hearing their empty promises from both sides of the aisle and it makes me sick.
As soon as a tragedy such as this happens, we have this knee-jerk reaction and look at the potential of supporting legislation punishing those that have obeyed the law, instead of bringing the hammer of justice down on those that have abused our laws and move forward with common sense efforts to help to prevent these terrible events.
I would pick up the phone two days after the events in El Paso and reach out to a wonderful friend who lives there and is involved in emergency services. We did business together about 30 years ago when I helped to design and sell a specialty vehicle to one of the fire districts which abut the City of El Paso. Ray and I have kept in contact for all those years since then. His family is now grown, and their children now have children. I felt a responsibility to reach out to my old friend to check on their safety.
Luckily, they were not at the store shopping that morning, but Ray himself had been called in to work the event and I could tell by our conversation he was still shaken by what he had observed and the impact it has had on his community. I would promise him that I wouldn’t wait so long to again speak with him and wished his family well.
As I attempt to make sense of these tragedies in my on mind, the horrific nature of them won’t let me. For like you, I am a thoughtful and law-abiding citizen. However, the one common thread that I see, which is woven through all these events lies in the diminished mental capacity of most of these individuals who are at the center of these shocking events. Most are on numerous medications to deal with the demons within them.
As a society we keep saying the right things regarding the need to improve background checks and insure more appropriate waiting periods to take the necessary time to review these purchases in a more thorough manner. To close the loopholes in the purchasing process and to better protect our innocent citizens.
I am not advocating for taking away the second amendment. To go down that road would only leave weapons in the hands of those that definitely shouldn’t have them. What we need to do is have common sense tightening of those regulations.
The sale of “cop-killer” ammunition which is specially designed to penetrate body and vehicle armor is another area of concern to me as the assault on our law enforcement community has continued to escalate in the last few years.
I grew up in New England where hunting for various game is a respected sport. You took a Hunter Safety Course in high school to ensure your competency in the handling of a firearm, and you respected that weapon and kept it secured.
Why the mother of the obviously troubled young man in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, who took the lives of 26 individuals, 20 of them elementary school children, would fail to keep the weapons she owned secured from her son, goes beyond anyone’s ability to comprehend.
We must as a society move forward with common sense legislation which improves our abilities to keep firearms out of the hands of those that should never possess them, while protecting the rights of our citizens to own firearms for their own protection or for sport.
We must commit the necessary resources and technology to protect our citizens and those first responders who put themselves in harms-way each day; and provide those special individuals with the necessary support after a horrific incident such as El Paso or Dayton.
This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; this is an American issue. We must muster the political will and courage to deal with this now and not after another massacre of innocent men, women or children in a school, church or at a festival in our own hometowns.
Steve Stefanides, well-known by his nickname “Stef,” is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Stef’s More Straight Talk column (and its predecessor, Straight Talk), on a variety of subjects, is a favorite of readers who trust him to bring them the facts. A Marco Island resident, Stef contributes to the community in many ways, having served on a number of city committees, charitable groups, boards and local organizations. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com