The Lester Street Massacre — as the murders of four adults and two children in early March has come to be labeled — broke my heart. Just as the shooting at Mitchell High School a month earlier broke my heart. Then came the death of 6-year-old Charlris Fleming Jr. on St. Patrick's Day in Frayser. Charlris died from a gunshot wound, an accidental shooting after he and his 7-year-old brother discovered a .357 Magnum under a couch cushion in their apartment. If such a death doesn't break your heart, check your pulse.
But as heartbreaking as these violent, life-destroying outbursts were, here's the saddest footnote I can imagine: They did not surprise me. Until Memphis —America, really — gets a grip on the epidemic abuse of handguns, none of us should be surprised when another bullet ends another life far too prematurely.
Take a stand against the National Rifle Association — and life members like rocker Ted Nugent — at your own peril. Wrote Nugent last year in the Waco Tribune-Herald : "I am committed to standing absolute in our fight to expose the gun banners for the soulless, spineless anti-Americans they are." You've heard the refrain, "Guns don't kill people. People kill people." Find me someone who dies in a car accident without a vehicle involved, and I'll come around on the latter argument. It's that ridiculous.
Constitutional advocates stand by the Second Amendment to the Bill of Rights as the pillar on which the very premise of democracy stands: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The United States, in its infancy, was frontier country, born under the threat of British soldiers marching — and firing their weapons — at the discretion of authority an ocean away. The craftsmen who drew up our country's first laws — deep-thinking, well-meaning men like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and James Madison — had their hearts in the right place in arming the first U.S. citizenry.
More than 200 years later, those who advocate the free use of automatic handguns and laws that make it as easy to acquire a gun license as it is to get a passport have only self-interest at heart. The message seems to be this: A man without his gun is a cat declawed. And the vitriol with which they defend their rights would make a feral cat proud.
The fact is, there would have been no Columbine slaughter were it not for hopelessly flawed gun laws in America. There would have been no Virginia Tech massacre were guns made the privilege of a select few responsible citizens who had to earn — yes, Mr. Nugent, earn — their access to such weapons. Crazed men determined to murder will do so with or without guns? I'm betting those Colorado kids would have taken their chances against a knife-wielding Eric Harris.
How do we vaccinate an epidemic seemingly beyond the reach of law and order? We start by getting Draconian. How about suspending the driver's license — for a year — of someone found with an unregistered weapon? How about requiring a high school diploma to register a gun in the first place? (Again, the privilege should be earned.) And here's a regulation to consider: a 365-day waiting period. Those 32 Virginia Tech students would be alive today had Seung-Hui Cho been forced to consider his internal demons beyond a few disturbed days.
Gun advocates love our founding fathers. Well, here is some more wisdom from Thomas Jefferson:
I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
Laws change. Nations evolve. It's time America gets a handle on guns.