Time Heals All Wounds?
Pride of Texas: God, Guns & Greg
‘America is a gun’
by Thomas Adcock
copyright © 2023 — Thomas Adcock
TORONTO, Ontario – Canada
We always remember the first time. When it happened; where it happened; how it felt bearing witness to mass murder, from however afar.
And now, each news report of a fresh massacre south of here—down in the United States of America—our dreams are creeped with flashbacks of that very first time.
Again and again and again over the years the madness strikes; another day, another fatal consequence of gun idolatry. There is no visible end to the unrelenting frequency of U.S. massacres, a cascade of violence often colored by racism or anti-Semitism that has robbed so many Americans of their capacity to be stunned or horrified. The cascade flows onward, occasionally rousing state and federal lawmakers to offer “thoughts and prayers” to families of the slain—but nothing more, lest the blood-money profits of gun manufacturers be imperiled.
Cry, the beloved country.
My country. From which I can no more escape than from my skin.
Yet for a few pleasant days I am here in the metropolis of Toronto to enjoy the company of old friends, at safe remove from the tinderbox of homicidal mania that shrouds the American scene. Indeed, researchers at Boston University project that over the course of an American’s lifetime the likelihood of knowing a fellow citizen killed or injured by gunfire is one hundred percent.
And where according to Paul Slovic, professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, the larger the number of victims downed by guns the harder it is for the American public to care. The professor calls this phenomenon “the deadly arithmetic of compassion.” During the long hot summer of 1967, when more than one hundred and fifty race riots broke out in U.S. cities from coast to coast, crackling the evening air with deathly gunfire, the most dangerous element of the national character was articulated by the young Black Panther leader H. Rap Brown: “Violence is part of American culture. It is as American as cherry pie.”
My introduction to gun madness came on August 1, 1966. It happened in the early afternoon of a sweltering day in the Texas state capital at Austin. The next morning, everyone in the country read about it in the newspapers—including me, a year out of high school and living more than a thousand miles north in my hometown of Detroit.
Austin dripped with humidity that Monday in August, with the temperature peaking at 98.1 degrees Fahrenheit (36.7 Celsius). The mass murderer who would command a nation’s headlines for the next several weeks established a now classic profile of the American mass murderer: male, young, white, aggrieved—and possessed of the wherewithal to own numerous guns and plenty of ammunition.
His name was Charles Joseph Whitman, age 25.
A one-time altar boy at his local Roman Catholic church, the late Mr. Whitman was the son of a physically abusive father, an accomplished marksman in his teens and later as a U.S. Marine Corps lance corporal, and a mechanical engineering major at the University of Texas where he met his wife-to-be, Kathleen Leissner.
In the hours before noon, the “Texas Tower Sniper,” as the press dubbed him, posed variously as a security officer and janitor to enter the limited-access university clock tower. At two-hundred-thirty feet tall (70 m), the clock tower remains the highest structure on the U-T campus.
Mr. Whitman came calling at the tower with a footlocker chock full of necessities for the siege he planned: machete, binoculars, Spam and other canned foods, a transistor radio, toilet tissue, coffee, earplugs, and hundreds of rounds of bullets for the guns he packed—a .30 caliber M-1 carbine, a .35 caliber pump rifle, a Remington 700 bolt-action hunting rifle equipped with Leupold M8-4X scope, a 9-milimeter Luger pistol, a Galesi-Brescia .25 caliber pistol, and a Smith & Wesson M19 .357 Magnum revolver.
Prior to his shooting spree from on high, Charles Whitman dispatched his mother and his wife in the pre-dawn hours by stabbing them to death in their sleep. To reach the tower’s restricted observation deck, he used a rifle butt to split open the skull of a middle-aged receptionist, Edna Townsend, after which he shot to death two tourists blocking his path.
He dragged furniture from the receptionist’s quarters and adjacent offices with which to barricade himself on the observation deck, where for ninety-six minutes he made random targets of passersby on the ground below—killing six of them and wounding thirty-one others before police officers climbed the stairs, broke through the barricade, and finally took him out.
In terms of the body count, it could have been worse.
Personal armaments available to Mr. Whitman back in 1966 were conventional weapons that fired conventional bullets, one stiff trigger-pull at time. Small wonder it took him one and one-half hours to shoot a combined thirty-seven victims.
Today’s weapon of choice for madmen the likes of Charles Whitman and his ilk is the AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle, capable of hitting a target more than two miles away (3,600 m) with .223-caliber hollow-point tumbler bullets that lacerate human organs on impact. The AR-15 is easily adaptable to a fully automatic military-grade machine gun. In its merely semiautomatic mode, it is lethal enough. The quick-triggered AR-15 can fire off forty-five rounds of ammunition per minute; a marksman as experienced as Whitman could have killed in the hundreds during his ninety minute rampage.
The AR-15 is by far America’s most popular weapon, with ownership growing at a steady rate of almost three million customers per year, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. In 2021, a study by researchers at George University estimated that as many as forty-four million Americans own an AR-15.
As in other civilized countries, the AR-15 assault rifle is banned here in Canada.
In the States, however, the AR-15 is the very touchstone of politically conservative American “patriotism” and un-Christian christianity. The entwined religio-political sentiment is highlighted each year with a rally in Washington to celebrate the holiness of guns, among other things. This year’s celebrants included disgraced ex-president Donald Trump, a flock of his Republican Party supporters in high public office, and the Rev. Hyung Jin Moon of the Pennsylvania-based Rod of Iron Ministries, where he officiates weddings for couples brandishing AR-15s during matrimonial service; the reverend wore his customary crown, fashioned from a string of bullets.
At the same time in Washington, Congressman Barry Moore, a Republican from Alabama, introduced a bill that would name the AR-15 “National Gun of the United States.” (Co-sponsors of the bill include Republican Congresswoman and QAnon conspiracist Lauren Boebert, formerly the owner of a Colorado saloon called Shooters Grill where the waiters wear loaded pistols on their hips.) Somewhere in Hell, perhaps Mr. Whitman dreams of what might have been; how he might today be a martyred defender of the holy “right to bear arms,” as it is misunderstood by the Rod of Iron Ministries and self-proclaimed experts in the U.S. Constitution; what might have been if only he could have fired an AR-15 that sizzling August day in 1966.
I write this essay on Wednesday, May 24, the first anniversary of an especially grisly schoolhouse massacre in Texas.
Today, we remember the loss of nineteen children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in the small town of Uvalde. They were gunned down by an angry 18-year-old who shot and seriously wounded his grandmother at the house they shared before driving off to Robb to do what so many other young madmen have done before.
Also in May of 2022, ten African American adults shopping for groceries on a Saturday morning in a largely black neighborhood of Buffalo, New York were gunned down by a young white man sworn to allegiance with swastika-soaked terrorist squads in the state. We remember them as well on this painful day.
Tomorrow, the Buffalo and Uvalde mass murders will be consigned to a determinably forgotten chapter of troubled history—just as the 1966 University of Texas slaughter is largely unknown to people two generations younger than my own.
Again, of course, the killers in both Uvalde and Buffalo were armed with America’s premiere weapon.
The Uvalde murderer purchased two AR-15s on May 18 of last year, the day after his eighteenth birthday and a week before he took the lives of children. Along with the weapons, he bought more than enough ammo to do the schoolhouse job. Perfectly legal in a state that permits angry young men to lawfully sport their weapons in the streets, as if displaying what could be considered as metaphorical penile transplants.
Manhood, whatever that might mean to Texans, is grotesquely divided in the context of gun mania.
On the one hand, there is jut-jawed Governor Greg Abbott who recently tweeted to the world, “I’m embarrassed: Texas #2 behind California in gun purchases. Let’s pick up the pace, Texans!” On the other, a video of beefy Uvalde cops gone viral on social media — men seen vomiting on the ground outside Robb Elementary after turning over the bodies of murdered little boys and girls, finding their faces blown off.
Official policy on deadly weapons is set in accordance with the moral compass of Governor Abbott, whose supporters tout his allegedly Christian convictions and chant the slogan “God, Guns and Greg” at his campaign rallies. During which Mr. Abbott offers up the usual thoughts and prayers on occasions such as Uvalde.
And as per usual, the Congress of the United States does nothing to address the immorality of America by way of simply banning the manufacture, sale, and possession of battlefield weapons. Like any other civilized nation.
Our American leaders, bought and owned by the gun industry, leave it to those of us forever traumatized to find something at least resembling sanity and peace. Ana Rodriguez of Uvalde, whose daughter Maite was among the dead girls and boys at Robb Elementary one year ago, is one of too many in search of peace and sanity.
Questioned by reporters assigned to chronicle the carnage in Uvalde, one year later, she said: “Time doesn’t heal. It shows us how to learn to live with the pain.”
A British poet calling himself Brian Bilston—real name: Paul Millicheap— once dashed off a few stanzas of doggerel that characterize certain leading nations of the world:
England is a cup of tea.
France, a wheel of ripened brie.
Greece, a short, squat olive tree.
America is a gun.
Brazil is football on the sand.
Argentina, Maradona’s hand.
Germany, an oompah band.
America is a gun.
Holland is a wooden shoe.
Hungary, a goulash stew.
Australia, a kangaroo.
America is a gun.
Japan is a thermal spring.
Scotland is a highland fling.
Oh, better to be anything
than America as a gun.
All the essays of Thomas Adock as our correspondent: here.