The Undercurrent: Lessons still not learned

Editor Kathryn Jones

It was lunchtime in Killeen that day in October 1991. A crowd had gathered at the Luby’s Cafeteria. As diners feasted on fried fish and roast beef, a blue Ford Ranger pickup truck smashed through the plate-glass window and a gunman began firing.

After the shooting was over, 23 people lay dead in what was then the worst mass murder in U.S. history.

I covered the story for TIME Magazine and was one of an army of reporters dispatched to the scene to try to figure out what spurred the gunman, George Hennard, a 35-year-old unemployed seaman, to go on such a deadly rampage.

Hennard had shown signs of violent instability before and had run-ins with the local cops.  But he had no trouble legally buying the two semiautomatic pistols he used in his killing spree – a Glock 17 and Ruger P-89. He shot people methodically as he walked through the cafeteria, pausing only long enough to pack fresh clips into the guns.

I mention this event because I went back and looked at the article today, recalling all the knee-jerk reaction after the Killeen carnage about the need for gun control and how easy it was to buy guns in America.

“No Lessons Learned,” the headline read on another TIME article. It told how Somervell County’s former congressman, Chet Edwards, a Democrat and gun-control opponent  –and whose district included Killeen — had switched his vote to favor a proposed law banning 13 different assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. But the measure was defeated.

The debate over gun control gets extra steam every time another mass murder occurs in the United States. Many American can recite the litany of mass shootings: Columbine. Fort Hood. Virginia Tech. Arizona and Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Aurora, Colo.

And, last week, an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was the latest scene of an unfathomable massacre, with 20 of the 27 victims being first-graders.

In both the Killeen and Newtown murders, the gunman committed suicide, leaving a stunned country and world grasping for whom or what to blame for such a heinous, cowardly act. A black drape of sorrow now hangs over a holiday season that usually is joyous because of children and their wide-eyed wonderment. Now 20 innocent first-graders and their parents got coffins instead of Christmas.

With the Connecticut horror fresh in our minds, word of a bomb scare at Tarleton State University last Saturday during graduation ceremonies brought another flash of fear. Someone wrote a threatening note on the wall of the women’s restroom at Wisdom Gym. Another school, another threat.  Was it the act of some disgruntled student, a misguided prankster or someone who was, as my grandmother used to say, “off their rocker”?

Law enforcement authorities took the threat seriously and the university responded quickly to relocate the graduation ceremonies from Wisdom Gym to Memorial Stadium. The commencement exercises went on only a half-hour behind schedule with no further incident.

None of it makes sense, does it? In Connecticut, innocent children lost their lives at the place where they should have been safe – school. In Stephenville, students and their families and friends gathered at a school for a happy occasion had to endure some tense moments.  But these students now will get to go on with their lives, reminded once again of how crazy the world can be and that dangers lurk everywhere.

Just as happened after the Killeen massacre, the Connecticut killings have prompted new calls for more stringent gun control.  As of this writing, some in Congress are re-evaluating laws on ammunition sales and spent time and ink on Monday criticizing the political power of the National Rifle Association.

Yet, as President Barack Obama said Sunday night, “No one law can erase evil.” To be sure, policies can’t keep a deranged person from committing acts of violence. But the question needs to be asked – is enough being done to protect our citizens?

Do we, as some believe, simply live in a culture of violence, where kids can play violent video games and “kill” online opponents for fun, or the nightly TV crime show depicts murder so casually or even glorifies it? And what about identifying those with mental illnesses and getting them some help before they grab a gun and act out?

Right now there are more questions than answers. I’m not sure looking to the federal government for solutions will provide any. Lawmakers can be quite gutless when it comes to touchy issues when they should be the ones providing leadership.

So, sadly, I expect in a decade or two to pick up this article and look back on this latest bloodbath and see no lessons learned. I hope I’m wrong. Maybe the little children can teach us something after all.

Maybe it will take a village, a coalition, of parents, educators, mental health professionals and others, to put together a thoughtful, long-term plan action to prevent the Columbines and Killeens and Connecticut massacres from happening to some other community and some other family.  To not at least try would be to give up on humanity – and to let all those little children die in vain.

Editor Kathryn Jones’ column “The Undercurrent” appears weekly in the Glen Rose Current…and whenever else there’s something to write about. 


2 Responses to The Undercurrent: Lessons still not learned

  1. TH Reply

    December 17, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    My thoughts also went to the many shooting tragedies that have happened in my short life time. All leaving us shocked and wondering what happened.

    Most would probably differ with my option but what happened is we took God out of our lives, nation, and families. We stopped thanking and looking to God as a nation.

    I don’t see these tragedies as punishments by any means but a result of our actions. No amount of Gov Control will solve this issue. This issues goes to the heart of our nation and we have to return to the nation God means for us to be. From our homes, to our schools, to our Gov. Only then will we have a chance of healing the evil that is in our nation.

  2. Ronnie Godfrey Reply

    December 17, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Well written.

    I was encouraged to hear some mention on the news this evening that we should be looking at the cause (mental health issues). Dr Oz, Diane Sawyer, others stopped the tirade against guns long enough to briefly cover this.

    What can we do? Don’t wait. If you think someone needs help or intervention, step up and say something. Call the law, call a doctor, call a preacher. Better yet call all three.

    Kathryn, i think a follow up article would be good to tell us what steps to take to help someone that might be a potential problem. What resources are out there, etc..

    God Bless.

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