A topic of discussion around the newsroom is this: What are the sure-fire ways to tick people off in print? The answer inevitably comes down to two subjects: criticize a powerful religion, or criticize the powerful gun lobby.
So this week, let’s pick on the gun lobby.
A few hours after that pathetic man did what he did in Aurora, when the victims’ bodies were still lying where they fell in that movie theater and panicked parents who couldn’t find their children waited in agony for answers, the hellaciously unaware social media department over at the National Rifle Association tweeted the following: “Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?”
Twitter can bring out the stupid in people, but that takes the cake.
An NRA statement read: “A single individual, unaware of events in Colorado, tweeted a comment that is being completely taken out of context… Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and the community. NRA will not have any further comment until all the facts are known.”
No apology. Thoughts and prayers, but no apology. And ironically, it was the owner of a local gun club who saw what apparently nobody else in his life did: James Holmes was a little too weird and scary to associate with. Lead Valley Range owner Glenn Rotkovich came to that conclusion by listening to Holmes’ outgoing voicemail message, which he heard when he called to invite Holmes to an mandatory pre-admission orientation. The message – “bizarre, guttural, freakish at best” – lead Rotkovich to block Holmes from the range.
IT DOES HAPPEN HERE. IT JUST HAPPENS IN DRIPS; IT HAPPENS IN DEGREES.
The NRA wants to know the facts, and so here they are: Over a period of some months, Holmes amassed a small arsenal of weapons, including two semi-automatic pistols and a semi-automatic assault rifle that fortunately jammed, and 6,000 rounds of ammunition he bought through unregulated online sources like BulkAmmo.com. Apparently nobody noticed.
Over the weekend, I read an editorial in The Denver Post that asked the question, “Why does it keep happening here?” First Columbine, the memory of which comes up every time (and there have been more times I care to count in the past year) my 18-year-old tweets that Hartnell is on lockdown and they’ve been ordered to stay in their classrooms and away from the windows. Then the New Life Church shootings in Colorado Springs in 2007, an incident in which a 24-year-old man armed with an assault rifle walked into a random church, shot two teenage sisters to death and then killed himself in the church parking lot. (Twelve hours earlier, authorities discovered, he’d shot two other men to death at a separate church facility in another town.)
Colorado isn’t saddled with reactionaries like Arizona, nor corruption like New Jersey, nor weirdness like California; so why us, the writer asked, and not them?
But it does happen here. It just happens in drips; it happens in degrees. We’ll hopefully never see the mass carnage of a Columbine or an Aurora, and that’s because fully automatic or military-style assault weapons that fire more than 10 rounds at a time are against the law. (Still, it happens. Salinas City Councilwoman Gloria de la Rosa had an outlawed assault rifle, purchased by her late son-in-law at an Arizona gun show and illegally stored in her home, stolen during a burglary.) But before we go patting ourselves on the back for our progressive ways on automatic weapons, let’s also remember that Monterey County has the highest youth murder rate in the state, a dismal accolade we’ve maintained for two years in a row. The county’s youth homicide rate was three times the statewide rate, at 24.3 victims ages 10 to 24 per 100,000 people. Oakland’s Alameda County, by comparison, came in at 18.4 per 100,000.
I have some smart, pro-gun ownership friends. One, a U.S. Marine currently stationed at Quantico, Va., keeps a loaded shotgun in a rack attached to his side of his bed. But some of these same smart and thinking friends have taken to Facebook and trumpeted these stats: in 2011, 8,775 people were killed in gun-related crimes, while 32,885 were killed in car accidents, so we should consider banning automobiles before we ban weapons. Rocks, they say, were once considered assault weapons, and yet nobody is trying to keep those out of our hands.
I’m not opposed to gun ownership. I’m opposed to sick young men (and they are overwhelmingly young men) walking into what should be an energizing gathering place – whether it’s a movie theater or a high school – and ruining so many lives.
But I’m also opposed to the fear that comes with living as a young Latino on Salinas’ East Side.