Monday, December 17, 2012
Images of Myself
I have theories about things in the world. I concoct those theories them from the perch that is my fairly long, very lucky life. A life with some bumps and curiosities and some pain but, all things considered, very fortunate. I base my world view on things I saw and lessons presented by others that have held up in practice.
When there is big news you measure it against your world. When a gunman took to the UT tower on August 1, 1966 I was, I believe, in Sacramento, California. . My sister had dumped me with the parents of some high school friends and gone (with my car) to see her husband at a temporary USAF assignment. I'd just graduated high school in May. I don't remember much about how the news came or if friends writing me letters mentioned it. Yes we wrote letters then, on paper, and mailed them. I know I found out about it, wondered about people I knew in Austin. I know I started college in another Texas city in September without a thought that there would be a sniper on campus.
I do know a few things now about that shooting spree. We didn't have social media and the Internet to follow every development. There was much less detailed news, day after day. My future husband whom I'd not yet met was nearly in the line of fire. SWAT teams were developed all over the country to provide a better intervention than citizens with hunting rifles and a brave but thrown-together team of peace officers and civilians to end the siege. A plaque, no bigger than a foot square commemorates the fallen of 1966, without naming them, near the turtle pond north of the tower. The first on campus victim that day was an unborn child. Very little emotional or financial support was given to the victims and their families. School was closed for one day. The blood was cleaned off the pavement. The flags flew at half mast on campus for a week while school started again after that one day. I'm pretty sure they didn't fly at half mast anywhere else in the country. President Johnson called for more gun control. Governor Connally did not see a benefit. (I remember the day Connally was shot in 1963, too.)
Whenever I think of guns, I think of the farm where I grew up. We had cows for beef, diary cows, grew cotton and corn. And we had sheep. A wild dog or a coyote could end a lamb's life in a heartbeat. There was no calling 911 to defend our little two bedroom house with the basement where we played and my mom made butter. My dad kept loaded guns on a rack at the back door. A 22 and a shotgun. I remember being allowed to shoot the 22 at a target (well a tin can). Feeling the kick, made to appreciate the power and destructiveness. We were never to touch the guns by ourselves. We were responsible for keeping our friends from touching them. Amazing. I got a BB rifle, too. I had to follow the Daisy Rules of Safety with it. In fact, my dad even corrected us for pointing plastic toy guns at others. I'm betting he wasn't there when the picture to the left was made. I never killed anything. I might have tried for birds with the BB gun. Mostly I shot up cardboard boxes and trees. Ditto with my bow and arrow. Seems crazy now to even have these 'toys.' But I did. And I didn't have a car seat or a seat belt and I rode in the back of pickups. Funny it didn't seem so dangerous as it sounds.
I do understand guns, I think. The message about harm got through. So I don't own one. I'm not a hunter and I don't plan to defend myself with one. When my father died, I thought he'd given away his guns. There was no shotgun but when I found 22 ammunition I knew I'd find a gun. And I did. High out of the reach of children. in his view at least, under a blanket, a loaded 22 rifle. The very one, I suspect, that was racked by the back door fifty years before. My dad was old and sick but I guess he would have tried to get it in a home invasion. Couldn't have come out well, I don't think.
There was a school shooting in Austin not too long after I came here. A teacher died. No one else was shot. Parents had a gun where a child could get it. That classic tale.
I knew a child at Columbine HS on the day of the shooting. He was unharmed.
I find it hard to imagine this world where weapons called assault weapons are used for sport, collected and find their way into the hands of people who somehow believe killing strangers will satisfy a need. My context is so different. Oh, we drew pictures of tanks and machine guns when we doodled as kids and imagined our plastic shoulders rattling off belts of bullets. Growing up post WWII somehow all kids sketched Nazi tanks with swastikas being overrun with US soldiers. The planes had dotted lines of tracers and bullets. The stories were in the air in that decade after the war and had entered our DNA it seemed.
My experience tells me that guns are powerful. That children don't learn to respect them in many families today and that there is too much access to them and that the assault weapons are better confined to the abstract of children's doodles, to video games and to the reality of war. (Unless we could end war. Yeah.) My experience tells me that some always respond to the latest incident of school shooting, theater shooting, mall shooting, P.O. shooting (remember those?) with some resolve to 'never let it happen again.' We blame a tumor, parents, God, a lack of gods, mental illness, the guns themselves, workplace woes, romantic woes, bullying. We think we can fix everything but experience shows that we can't. Not that we shouldn't try. But some tries will be wildly misguided. And something else tragic will happen.
All I know is this: I will never be the shooter. Or the source of the weapon. I hope that's true. Especially now that I've given away that 22 I found, loaded, under that blanket in that closet.