Thoughts of childhood took me back. I walked to school; about five blocks. It was called Bailey Elementary School. Mom and Dad said goodbye as I started out without fearing it would be the last time. My greatest fear: I wouldn’t measure up as we played soccer during recess.
Marty and I, as parents, had similar experiences as did our daughters, I think. While it is impossible to measure an absence of fear on a quantitative scale; well, it was blissful.
So, what has changed? Just about everything. Society is coarser. Measuring up, in a world of “social media” is, for some, terrorizing. And it just takes a few turning an interior terror into an exterior one to change everything.
Guns? I remember my Dad deputizing me, after a gift of a Red Ryder B-B gun. His charge; keep the squirrels out of our pecan tree. Talk about an existential challenge.
So here we are a century turn later enjoying medical miracles but fearing life. So, we ask after each mass shooting what are we (after all we live in a democracy) going to do. We then go through a nauseous week or so depending on the severity of the slaughter and fall back into our rhetorical stand offs. Pathetic.
I was at the birth of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). I worked in New York City and could see smoke rising from the World Trade Center towers. The attack occurred on September 11, 2001. The TSA was established by the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush on November 19, 2001.
I suspect Bush and his Congressional collaborators don’t list TSA among their proudest moments. They should; after all our government absorbed the horror, vowed to never let it happen again and almost a generation later it hasn’t. Along the way plane hijackings went from 67 incidents in the 1970s to 9 incidents in the 2010s and none involved United States airlines.
I can sense the bile gathering in our collective throats. None of us want to stand in line at airports or be electronically disrobed as we clear the security area. Or, spend billions of tax dollars just to make sure we don’t die flying to see our family hundreds or thousands of miles away. But then 9/11 demanded action and we intuitively knew that we could not effect a cultural change that would erase the threat.
We have once again been reminded of children who will not see tomorrow and parents who unknowingly said their final goodbye. And, if we have taken a few minutes to reflect we have been reminded of freedom of speech converted into stories that seize on anger, guns and revenge. It used to be we just watched these storylines unfold; now video games allow us to get in the middle of the action. And among us are troubled minds.
Okay, I am running out of words—columns have limits. And, our patience has limits. The shooting at the Uvalde school takes third place behind Virginia Tech and then Sandy Hook in lives lost and exists in a long line of school horrors (367 in the 2000s). We should be at an inflection point. And we know that the only constructive actions in our divided nation is for the two political parties to find acceptable common ground.
On one level, prediction is easy. We won’t ban guns. Maybe the age of acquisition will be extended. We should, but are unlikely to, restrict the sale of high-capacity magazines. And on and on.
What about “tactical carrier” vests—I cannot imagine a successful law that does not severely restrict their ownership. The vests are what we think of as bullet proof and have pockets for other guns and ammunition. The Constitution does not protect them. When Salvador Ramos, the shooter, at age 18, bought such a vest, a screaming siren should have sounded.
Finally, nothing happens without leadership and President Biden is in the leadership chair. And, I should add citizen leadership will be important; not political, citizen.
The immediate reactions from elected officials were not encouraging. They never are. They have their talking points; there was no need to rehearse them. But, ever the optimist, I know there are patriots in both parties. President Biden, you know who they are, call them up and lead us to a better tomorrow. Don’t seek perfection, seek something you can sign. We won’t return to the blissful moments I recalled, but we can make schools and public places safer.
Afterword: News now suggests that serious discussions have been started in the US Senate to craft legislation to reduce the threat of gun violence in schools. A seed crystal? We can hope.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.