Allegan County News & Union Enterprise Courier-Leader, Paw Paw Flashes, & South Haven Beacon Saugatuck/Douglas Commercial Record

Life as Performance Art

   It was just after we returned from watching the Independence Day parade here in Saugatuck that our phone rang.  It was Pat’s oldest son, telling us that he and his wife were safe. At first, we were confused by their message, that is until he told us the news from Highland Park, the city north of Chicago where they live.  The two of them had gone to the parade and were a short distance from where that punk opened fire with a high-powered rifle.  Like others, they made a run for it and got home safely.  Since the shooter was still on the loose, they closed the curtains, locked the doors, and stayed out of sight.  Nice way to spend Independence Day, isn’t it? 
    As everyone knows by now, it was another mass shooting. That seems to be a constant theme in our country, as there have been more than 300 of them so far this year, where four or more people are killed, and sometimes others injured.  For those of you who are ‘of age’ perhaps you remember newscaster Walter Cronkite giving us the nightly body bag count from Viet Nam.
    Later that day, the elected officials did their part. They stood in front of a microphone and trotted out the same mindless and now meaningless clichés about ‘thoughts and prayers’ and how something must be done. When our elected officials get back to work after their holiday recess they’ll talk about it for a while, growl into the television camera that “something must be done!” and once they feel confident, they have done their duty, will move onto something else.  Nothing will get done.
    Before this edition of the paper gets published, they will undoubtedly repeat their well-memorized pious platitudes after another shooting.
     Last week, a World War Two Marine who turned one hundred years, said, “It was a beautiful country, but someone is messing it up.  America is going to hell in a hand basket.”  I don’t completely agree with him, because some good things are happening, but when it comes to the gun violence in this country and the inability to do much more than mouth the right words, the retired sergeant, but “once a Marine, always a Marine,” is right.
      Part, not all, but part of the ‘messing up’ business is this pathetic addiction to high powered assault rifles with high-capacity magazines.  I’ve talked to several big game hunters, and they scoff at the idea of using them in the field.  “Wrong gun for hunting,” one of them said, spit on the ground, and added, “unless they don’t know how to hit a target the first time. It’s military grade, and good for hunting other people, that’s it. Not game animals.”
     If the assault rifles are not the right tool for hunting, then why have them?  I asked a couple of owners.  One of them said it was his Constitutional right, and that was good enough reason to own several.  Another one said it was to protect his stuff. He went on to explain – my dog, my truck, my property, my woman and my kids.  “You know, like in the Old West.”    Sorry fellow, despite all of the television shows and movies, most people in the west did not carry pistols, nor did they have easy access to repeating rifles. Most of them preferred a shotgun.  And it might be a good idea to rethink your priorities, what you are at it,
    The answer that wins the “I’m double-parked in a parallel universe,” came from the couple who said that they had their assault style rifles to protect their freedom and liberty from a tyrannical federal government.  They planned on buying a couple more and stocking up on ammunition. Really?   Seriously?  You and perhaps some of your friends think you can take on the best trained and most disciplined armed forces in the world, and win? 
     This sort of citizen rebellion is doomed to failure, and when it is crushed, the aftermath is likely going to include more surveillance than ever before.  When the Fifth Monarchy Men tried it on January 6, 1660, they had blunderbusses to shoot up a children’s Epiphany Eve service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. They killed several children in the choir loft. Within a couple of days, the terrorists were rounded up and hanged.  In 1859, John Brown tried the same sort of stunt at Harper’s Ferry, and it didn’t go so well for him.  I cannot imagine anyone dumb enough to think they can beat Uncle Sammy’s army.
      There is nothing new about our American passion for shooting one another.  We all remember the tragic saga of the Burr and Hamilton duel in 1804. The two of them wanted to settle the dispute “like gentlemen” and agreed to a time and place for the duel. Burr killed Hamilton in what was considered a fair fight, but the aftermath ruined him. His political career was over. Hamilton’s life was over.
     The result of this incident was moral outrage, starting with the clergy in New York State, and quickly spreading to other states.  Lyman Beecher, the great preacher and leading light of the Second Great Awakening, was cleric at the Presbyterian Church in New Haven, Connecticut.  Never one to shy away from controversy, he preached sermon after sermon that no man could call himself a Christian if he voted for any political candidate who did not take a stand against dueling.  He also instructed the wives and daughters of his congregation to put the pressure on their husband and father.
     Some people applauded; others were appalled that he dared to use his pulpit to “preach politics” during an election year.  The practice was soon outlawed.  Objectors to what a clergy person has to say still resort to the old claim of preaching politics and trot out ideas of separation of church and state.
     Every attempt at trying to ban assault style weapons seems to be foiled by an unholy alliance of the gun lobby and politicians who like their financial support. Other politicians make it clear that their constituents would turn them out of office for trying to put an end to these killing tools.
    You and I understand their plight. We know it is tough to do the right thing, especially when it is unpopular.
     Maybe the time has come to try a different, but certainly an old-fashioned All-American, method:  Tax.  Big-time, industrial strength taxes might work.  Let’s say we have a federal excise tax of ten thousand dollars on the purchase of every assault weapon; a big annual tax or license fee on existing assault-style rifles; and another tax of say, ten or twenty or fifty dollars per bullet.  And for good measure, no one can make a purchase or keep a weapon without reciting from memory their Oath of Enlistment from when they joined the military and promised, for the rest of their life to maintain it.  After all, if you want to buy a military grade weapon, you ought to be a military veteran.
     I can already hear the screams of anger of how it is somehow the violation of the Constitutional rights of people to own their guns.  But let’s remember, the rest of us have rights, too, such as the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  They are just as valid and important to us as having a weapon meant to kill and maim people.
      We have the right to go to a parade, shopping mall, or anywhere else without having to be afraid we might be shot.  We have the right to go to a grocery store or church without having to look around for a crazed gunman, we have the right to play ball or watch a game from the bleachers, ride a bike, walk down a street, without thinking that we might not ever get home again.
     Above all, children have the right to enjoy the innocence of their childhood without learning active shooter drill maneuvers or show their parents how they were taught to shelter in place by standing on a toilet in a restroom stall so they can’t be seen by a killer.

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