EDITOR’S NOTE: “The Second Amendment Villain” was originally published on December 9, 2012 in Allvoice.Com. It was subtitled “From Kennedy to Sandy Hook.” In light of last week’s shooting rampage on the campus of Umpqua Community College in Rosebud, Oregon, I thought it appropriate to republish this perspective of gun violence in America.
This has been a difficult piece to write on the heels of a traumatic weekend, as so many emotions have boiled into the collective consciousness of the nation in the wake of 26 dead in Sandy Hook.
It is not the first time the fiber optics of my generation’s nerve endings have been assaulted with such a range of emotions that it becomes too difficult to find a cathartic release for the senselessness of the unthinkable happening, yet again.
I was content to brood alone in my discontent over the loss of life of the children, their teachers, and the victim’s mom in Sandy Hook, but then in search of solace I scrolled through my Facebook news feed and ran across a post from my son, Coley Harvey, an award winning sports journalist in Florida. He blogged on his Facebook timeline: “If the Newtown shooter is as young as preliminary reports say he is … he was in elementary school when Columbine happened. I was in eighth grade; about to graduate college when Virginia Tech happened. Why has school shootings defined my generation?”
A heady posit by a sports writer. I responded back, “An excellent question that deserves much contemplation in the coming days.”
So feeling a need, as most parents do in times like these, to hug their offspring (Coley being my only progeny and I hope I did not embarrass him), but I went back onto his Facebook news feed and posted: “Also, I’m sending you a cyber hug.”
I spent the better part of the weekend contemplating the loss of innocent lives and Coley’s postulation about his generation’s problem, a problem passed on to them by my generation.
At the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, my generation set the stage for Columbine. My psyche was shaken and my innocence came unglued 49 years ago on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving.
I was 12 years of age, learning arts and crafts, in Mrs. Margaret Sheftall seventh-grade class, when we heard a humming sound coming from the intercom system. Then the principal, Mrs. Mae Miller, announced that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas.
I’m not certain if she left the intercom in the on position intentionally, as she would do when there was a space launch, or not, but after a brief period of silence we heard the trusted voice of Walter Cronkite, the CBS News Anchor, say that President John Fitzgerald Kennedy had died. In one swift moment of time, the world, as I had known it seemed to have turned upside down. According to the official story, a lone gunman armed with a rifle which had a scope on it shot the president in the head.
Dread was loose. We were afraid. No one could concentrate on arts and crafts. We thought the Russians were coming to get us.
Within hours of Kennedy’s assassination, the man that the actor Ozzie Davis would later eulogize as “our black shining Prince,” Malcolm X, proclaimed that the seeds of discord which led to the violent demise of a sitting United States president could be found in the militaristic posture of the nation in Cuba, Southeast Asia and the Congo.
The sage “chickens coming home to roost” message of Malcolm X was blunted by internal hassles within the Muslim sect where he worshiped. Malcolm was silenced by the leader of this Muslim sect and told not to talk about the violence the nation practices abroad as a cause for its citizens to act out violently at home.
Fifteen months later shock waves went through my nervous system again at a most unexpected time. My brother and I were in our room watching the NBA on CBS following church service. There was a news break which interrupted the basketball game. The announcer said that Malcolm X had been killed in Harlem by three African American men firing hand guns, the only firearms readily available to colored people in the mid-1960s.
Malcolm’s death went mostly unnoticed, as most black-on-black murders still do today. There is barely a blip on the radar scale of societal consciousness.
When an African American is murdered by a white person it gets more attention. Three years after Malcolm’s death, I read his autobiography each day after school until the sun light no longer filtered into my room.
I had just finished my evening reading when a news bulletin announced that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot on a motel balcony in Memphis. My mom and I cried until my dad came home. Dr. King had been shot by a white man armed with a rifle which had a scope on it.
Two months later, while mourning the transition of a younger cousin, news came that the former Attorney General Robert Kennedy, the brother of President John Kennedy, had been killed. He was shot while he was campaigning for president in California by an Arab with a hand gun, presumably the only type of firearm easily available to an American Arab in the late 1960s.
In July of 1969, we thought we had ended the decade on a good note, with a landing on the moon as the nation made good on a challenge made by President Kennedy to land a man on the moon within the decade of the 1960s.
But the first week of December 1969 saw the FBI and Chicago Police brutally murder Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton and Mark Clark as they slept in their beds. Over 100 rounds were fired into the home of Fred Hampton. Three weeks later, Fred Hampton, Jr. was born, never to know his father.
But what a bloody mess my teenage years were: Good and decent men were gunned down, primarily because of political beliefs, which are protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, by men exercising their Second Amendment rights, under that same Constitution.
The best and brightest in my generation reacted to the bloody decade with horror and disgust. If adults could not be trusted to agree to disagree with citizens whose views differed from theirs without resorting to blowing their adversary’s brains out, then all respect was lost for the “greatest generation” which had stood up to Hitler while dropping the atomic bomb on men, women and children in Japan.
On college campuses throughout the country the youth went after the system demanding change and an end to the violent war in Southeast Asia. What they were met with at Jackson State University in Mississippi, South Carolina State University, and Kent State in Ohio, were the state militias, whose reason for being emanate from the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
History little notes and few remember the students who were shot to death in the two major black college campus uprisings at Jackson State and South Carolina State. For some reason, that has eluded me my entire lifetime. A black tragedy just does not resonate with the American people, like a Greek tragedy or a tragedy at Camelot.
On both of these Historically Black College campuses the state militias fired high powered rifles into female dormitories for ostensibly the same reasons our federal government send drone strikes into buildings occupied by women and children in Afghanistan, because bad men were hiding in them. In the case of the female dormitories, militant black men suspected of burning buildings on campus were believed to be hiding out.
History does notate and does recall Kent State. It is the student disturbance at Kent State that gives a classic look at how the Constitutional Convention of 1787-88 perceived the Second Amendment in action. The Constitution of the United States of America was first published September 19, 1787, in a special issue of the Pennsylvania Packet. The Second Amendment of the Constitution reads:
“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.”
Jack N. Rakove, Professor of History at Sanford University and author of the book “Original Meanings: Politics and ideas in the making of the Constitution,” points out that the Second Amendment passed during the Revolutionary Era of American history and should be interpreted in that vein.
In 1776 when the Continental Congress ratified the Declaration of Independence they did not have a standing army, or means to equip one, thus in order to wage war against King George; they relied upon the sundry states to raise a militia for this purpose. Each Minuteman was required to bring whatever arms were available to him. As time went on the Continental Congress was able to supply the troops with the funds that it had at its disposal.
This was the general practice in 1787 when the Constitutional Convention convened in Philadelphia to resolve problems caused by the Articles of Confederation, which governed the Americans following the Peace Treaty of 1781.
In the early winter of 1787, Shays Rebellion occurred when a group of Massachusetts farmers got fed up with the amount of taxes Massachusetts required them to pay. They could not meet this obligation because the British taking advantage of a weak central government in America, which did not have the power to regulate trade and commerce, docked its ships in American ports filled with goods from England.
The British prohibited the Americans from docking in the British ports. Thus, the Americans had no way to export their goods and were financially strapped. Under the Articles of Confederation, Massachusetts could not maintain a standing army, so in order to put down the rebellion, Massachusetts called up a militia from the seaboard counties of the state. In essence the state raised an army of fishermen to quell the rebellious farmers.
Shays Rebellion was fresh in the minds of the framers of the Constitution when the Second Amendment was drafted. The framers sought to give the states a way to control their citizenry. Proponents of the Second Amendment mistakenly believe that this amendment was enacted to enable the people to checkmate the government.
It was not. How fanciful to think that a government who had just overthrown a tyrant would give the keys to its own demise to another group of people who thought they knew better how the affairs of state should be run.
No way. Clearly in absence of a state funded militia, the Second Amendment permits those called in defense of the state to bring their own arms.
Fast forward 183 years to the state of Ohio. Under the Constitution states can now maintain a State Guard under the command of the governor, but subject to be nationalized by the federal government. The state’s National Guard unit replaces the state militia. The state trains and equips the guard unit.
When students became disruptive in 1970 at Kent State, Gov. James Rhodes rode into town and declared the protestors to be, “The worst type of people in America.” He vowed to shut the protest down.
The protestors had basically overrun the local law enforcement agencies as the police were unable to control the student protests both on campus and in the streets of downtown Kent. The mayor of Kent sent for the state militia. Rhodes sent in the National Guard.
When a campus protest could not be brought under control, chaos broke out. The folk rock group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released a song, “Ohio” with the haunting refrain “four dead in Ohio,” capturing the sorry state of national affairs back then and now magnified by “20 dead in Sandy Hook.”
The weekend that the Kent State protest broke out, I had been in of all places, Orangeburg, South Carolina, competing with my collegiate baseball team (Fort Valley State University) against South Carolina State University and I did not learn of the student protest occurring in Ohio.
I had to leave my team in Orangeburg as I was scheduled to be in Memphis on Tuesday of the following week to register as a delegate to the Quadrennial Conference of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church. The church conference had been established in Jackson, Tenn., in 1870 and was celebrating its centennial.
I reached Tupelo, Miss., on the day after the shooting at Kent State; I stopped at a gas station, saw two tobacco chewing southerners discussing the day’s newspaper headline. One spat near my path as I walked into the store, the other one said: “Served them hippies right. They got what they deserved.”
I peered down and read the headline, “Four dead in Ohio,” suddenly my kidneys were not in a rush to be relieved. I walked out of the store and drove onto Memphis.
Today we lament with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young over the 20 dead in Sandy Hook with Crosby’s query from 1970 ringing in our ears: “Twenty (Four), why? Why did they die, how many more?”
In September 1975 the madness continued with two attempts on the life of President Gerald Ford. On Sept. 5, Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, by all accounts a mentally deranged disciple of Charles Manson, fired a hand gun towards President Ford in Sacramento, Calif.
Less than three weeks later, Sara Jane Moore believed that the country needed a change at the top so she took a shot with a handgun at President Ford. She missed too. Ford was lucky; he dodged two bullets.
In the early 1980s a dude trying to impress a movie actress whom he had never met shot President Ronald Regan with a handgun, wounding him and his Press Secretary James Brady, for whom the press room in the White House is named. Just months before that, an idiot wanting to make a name shot and killed the former Beatle, John Lennon.
Seemingly in the 21st century, the country has gone stark-raving mad. First there were high schools, elite universities, military bases on the mainland, movie theaters, shopping malls, and now an elementary school. Will the list continue? Will we allow it to continue?
At the turn of this century, my wife and I had our own near-Columbine situation when our son Coley came home from the private, predominately white Christian high school he attended complaining that he had been threatened overnight over the Internet.
When Coley had arrived at school that day his friends who had seen the threat notified him of it. Coley immediately notified school officials. But no one from the school called either his mother or I.
We were clueless until he came home from school visibly upset. The school downplayed the threat and said they would have the two boys involved stay after school where they would be required to read John Howard Griffin’s “Black like Me,” and they would have to write a paper about what they learned.
One kid was an athlete and a deer hunter. The other kid was awkward, a follower and definitely the one you didn’t want to have the gun in his hands. Both fit the Columbine, Aurora, and Sandy Hook motif.
The school argued the boys were just being boys and did not mean anything threatening. But one thing history has taught us is angry, frustrated white boys with access to high power weapons do shoot up schools.
In February, a high school football player, Trayvon Martin, was shot with a high powered weapon by a man playing neighborhood watch captain inside his head, when the man made it his cause to query the African American teenager walking on the sidewalk in a gated community where the teenager’s father lived.
Martin died instantly.
Nine months later, so too did Jordan Russell Davis, an African American magnet high school student in Orlando when he was shot by a white American gun collector, because the gun collector sought to interfere with Davis’ First Amendment right to listen to his music in a gas station parking lot.
The gun collector, an avid advocate of the sanity of the Second Amendment, argues he was within his rights to violate Davis’ First Amendment right to free expression, because he was defending himself after the teenager essentially augured; Davis did not have a constitutional right to tell him to turn his music down.
While at all times, gun violence has been in epidemic, perhaps even pandemic proportions in the African American community; especially in the president’s hometown of Chicago and in metropolitan Atlanta. Black young men kill black men, women and children as easily and without any thought of the consequences of sure death; as if those killed were electronic pixels on the latest video game.
The new gang initiation ritual in Atlanta is to go out and shoot into an occupied home or into a crowd of people standing on a street corner. Several African American children have lost their lives or received injuries in recent months from gun shots while asleep in their beds.
If you think a kid in Sandy Hook has misgivings about going back to school over concerns for their safety; just imagine what horrors black kids in Atlanta must feel when they do not feel safe in their own homes, sleeping in their own beds or standing at the corner school bus stop.
And no one seems to have the answer for the malady upon the country. Perhaps, it goes back to that hushed-up statement of Malcolm X in 1963:
We have sent our chickens out in our war games, in our video games, in our violent movies, in our disrespectful gangster rap videos, in our failed health care delivery system before “ObamaCare,” in our lack of civility in political discourse, in our unregulated gun market, in our drone attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now those chickens are coming back home to roost.
In this context, it’s appropriate to paraphrase Malcolm, “Chickens coming home to roost never made me glad; they have always made me sad.”
Alas, it may be time to say the nation is in a real and present danger of losing its national identity, which is to say its constitution no longer can guarantee the privileges to life, to liberty and to a pursuit of happiness which the framers of this constitution promised it would secure.
Yet we, men and women of my generation, are the cowards, who must summon the courage to protect each American from each one of us.
Twenty-six are dead in Sandy Hook. “Why?” “Why did they die, how many more,” intoned David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young three decades and a half ago?
Let’s hope this saga stops here.
Harold Michael Harvey, is the author of the legal thriller “Paper Puzzle,” and “Justice in the Round: Essays on the American Jury System,” available at Amazon and at haroldmichaelharvey.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org