Austin American-Statesman Mike Leggett column
Jan 20, 2013 (Austin American-Statesman - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Larry Gene Ashbrook changed my family's life in September 1999.
He barged into Fort Worth's Wedgewood Baptist Church during a teen prayer service and began shooting. He killed seven people and then himself.
One of the dead was Shawn C. Brown, 23, best friend to my daughter Laurie and her husband Daniel. Shawn and Daniel went to the back of the church to check on the disturbance and Shawn died standing next to Daniel.
The couple named their son and my oldest grandchild, Shawn, to honor their fallen friend.
So, to the people who have been writing me lately -- in tones ranging from asking for my thoughts to calling me a coward for failing to confront gun control -- I want to explain the reasons it's taken this long since the school shootings in Connecticut.
I was too raw to talk about it, just didn't have the stomach really even to think about it. I couldn't read about it, couldn't watch it on television or listen to radio coverage of everything that happened in Newtown or Aurora or wherever.
I could only say then that if I thought for a nano second that banning guns, any and all guns, would stop another killing in a theater or school or church, I'd pile up all my guns in the driveway and set them on fire. Right now. Today.
But that's not the answer. Never has been.
I don't know the answer, except to say that it's not to ban guns or to strap a pistol to every teacher and student in America. It's not to put armed guards in every school. And it's not to rush out and destroy every gun and extra magazine we can find.
I'm so certain of it that I took Shawn on his first hunting trip just days after the Sandy Hook shooting. Not because we didn't have sympathy for those children and parents but because our family has bonded over hunting for generations. It's as simple as that.
It takes guns to hunt and the guns weren't the cause of that shooting. They are just an easy villain to divert us from our own shortcomings and give focus to each and every fear of the world that strikes us today.
Guns are the most easily identifiable hardware of special interests on both sides of the debate, as are violent video games, the NRA, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the War on Drugs.
Blaming them is easy, and it's low-hanging fruit that's going to grab untold numbers of votes and money for politicians and special interests who jump on the anti-gun/protect the Second Amendment bandwagon.
I had begun putting together a pile of statistics showing that the so-called assault weapons, semi-automatic rifles, are responsible for such a small percentage of any shootings -- military actions aside -- that occur in any given year. I wanted to show that suicides account for a majority of all gun deaths in this country and that suicides in the military have risen dramatically in recent years.
The list could go on for reams but then I realized I was just becoming part of the noise, just one more shrill sound in the wilderness of special interest advocacy. I'm going to change no one's mind, on either side.
Gun control advocates want to say the Second Amendment wasn't meant to protect private ownership of firearms and that those guns are causing the mass shootings. Second Amendment advocates say we should focus on and curtail the media coverage of those events, limit video games and violent movies they believe are contributing to a near zombie culture of killers with no feelings for their victims.
But I believe in the First Amendment just as strongly as the Second. They are inviolate, I think.
One gives us the right to question gun laws and to distribute news about horrific events and the other gives us the right to own firearms for recreation and protection.
And all the furious debate and talk show round tables -- again both sides making money off this issue -- don't deal much with the second common thread to all these shootings: the mentally disturbed and deranged individuals who carry them out. There are a few people trying to raise the issue but they're drowned out in the ambient noise of the battle for public opinion.
These shooters are almost unfailingly young males with a history of mental illness and an identifiable bent toward committing these kinds of atrocities. They might have been headed off if we'd been able to act, we're told, but privacy laws prevent any meaningful action BEFORE they act on their vile fantasies. Cowards that they are, they almost always kill themselves.
It's the price of living in a free society, as are guns and video games. There's chaos and random violence, thousands of people killed in car crashes and many more dead to substances that no war on drugs can ever stop.
Pogo the Possum said it best: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
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