*Thirty years before the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut which left 20 children and 6 adults dead, a sniper opened fire on the playground at 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles from his two-story home across the street from the school.
It was an unfathomable act of violence. It left one 10-year-old female student dead and 11 students injured. A playground director was also shot trying to save the student who was killed.
The 28-year-old gunman in this case killed himself before police stormed his home to take him down. It was later reported by a family member that not only did the gunman have a history of threatening behavior with guns, he also had mental health issues which were said to have been exacerbated after the death of his parents in the 1978 Guyana, Jonestown Massacre.
I remember the incident well. At the time I was a freelance reporter for USA Today. When the story came over the wire, they dispatched me to the inner city school a few days following the shooting to try and talk with administrators and students.
And I did. As you can well imagine, the young elementary school students and staff were traumatized by what had happened on their quiet campus. The Los Angeles Unified School District deployed a team of six school psychologists to counsel the children and staff. However, it was clear from speaking with them that what happened on that ill-fated day would impale them for a long time.
Since I wrote that story many years ago I’ve often wondered what happened to those students I interviewed; the ones who told me they didn’t feel safe and the ones who said they had nightmares, headaches and flashbacks. I’ve wondered how that experience shaped or seared their lives.
For most Angelenos that day has long been forgotten. When the Newtown massacre occurred, memories of the shooting at 49th Street Elementary School immediately flooded my mind. For the family that lost their precious daughter on that playground, I bet it struck a cord after all these years. While both events happened decades apart, they had eerie similarities. Both happened at an elementary school, involved a gunman who was alleged to have mental health problems, resulted in fatalities and injuries, and ended with the gunman taking his own life.
The shooting at 49th Street Elementary School seemed like an anomaly back then. But sadly as the years have ticked off, domestic gun violence in this country seems bound and determined to become the “new normal.”
Thinkprogress.org posted a timeline of mass shootings in the United States and says that since 1982 there have been at least 61 mass murders involving guns. The 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, which the gunman killed 13 people and wounded 21 others, was the deadliest in the nation until the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Many of the shootings involved the use of semi-automatic weapons. These weapons are efficient in killing large numbers of people quickly. In less than one minute – 45 seconds to be exact – they can discharge a clip of 30 bullets. Their intended use of these weapons is for combat and law enforcement. But over the years these weapons have found their way into the hands of killers and mass murderers not by clandestine procurement, but legal procurement.
In this country, the issue of gun control sparks rage, contempt and “balls to the wall” war against those that attempt to restrict it. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people is of ten the defense against any kind of weapons ban. Yet people are using guns to kill other people. They are far too often using semi-automatic assault weapons to wreak havoc and amass human carnage. They are the weapon of choice because they exact the most harm quickly and efficiently.
For many gun owners the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which protects their right to bear arms, is sacrosanct. Tampering with it is heresy.
But does the Second Amendment to the Constitution give citizens the right to bear assault weapons and will a ban on these kinds of weapons infringe upon that right? And lastly, is bearing semi-automatic weapons an absolute right?
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has a lot of Americans asking questions as they seek answers. The premeditated and deliberate killing of innocent children, who were between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, puts the issue of gun control, ownership and the importance of mental health services under the spot light, on the table and in our faces.
Following the Newtown massacre, President Barack Obama vowed to “take meaningful action, regardless of the politics,” to prevent future tragedies like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School from happening again. And he’s looking at a multi-dimensional approach from banning assault weapons, improving school safety and providing mental health services.
Most people agree with the President something has to be done. A recent poll showed that over half of those surveyed said gun laws should be stricter than they are now and that semi-automatic weapons and magazine clips holding more than 10 rounds should be banned.
The tone among gun lobbyists, advocates and gun supporters in the Senate and Congress is conciliatory and open – at least for now. No one wants another Newtown massacre to happen. But those in the trenches have taken to arms by purchasing record numbers of assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips this holiday season as they sense a change is coming.
Veronica Hendrix is a syndicated columnist and feature writer whose work has covered the span of the human continuum – from clinical trials of male contraceptives, to the gang violence. She is the owner of Bromont Avenue Foods. She is the author of “Red Velvet Gourmet Spice Rub and Seasoning Heart Healthy Recipes.” Visit http://bromontavefoods.com for more information. For comments, interviews, speaking engagements or moderator requests please send an email to [email protected].