Brennan: Murders reach wholesale level

By Tom Brennan |

It’s November and on the 22nd — the day before Thanksgiving — those who were alive then will be remembering that day in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas by Lee Harvey Oswald, a psychopath with a rifle.

Oswald shot Kennedy and wounded Texas Gov. John Connally with a rifle he fired from a sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository building, where he worked. During his attempt to escape he killed Dallas Police officer J.D. Tippit. Oswald was himself killed two days later by nightclub owner Jack Ruby who walked up to Oswald as he was being transported between lockup facilities and shot him in the stomach.

I remember the Kennedy assassination for two reasons, the first being the moment I heard about the president’s murder. I was returning from a day hunting trip with my buddy Harvey Rayner. When we pulled up in front of his house Harvey’s wife Edie ran out to say: “They killed him.” Harvey asked “Who?” and she replied, “The president.”

The news was a great shock and when I heard the details I couldn’t help but remember the occasion a month earlier when I drove to Amherst College to cover a speech by Kennedy. I was then a reporter for the Worcester Telegram.

I was running a little late and wanted to see Kennedy arrive and be welcomed. I was too late to get a good spot in the crowd so I looked around and decided the best vantage point would be the steeple of the college chapel. The president’s motorcade would drive right by it. A guard at the chapel entrance checked my press credentials and let me through. I climbed stairs and a ladder into the steeple, reaching a good perch minutes before the motorcade arrived.

When it came I remember being shocked. Kennedy was sitting in an open convertible below me, ready to wave to the crowd, which was a block or so away. I couldn’t avoid thinking how vulnerable the president seemed in such an exposed seat. Some nut with a gun could easily have knocked him off. Then a month later it happened.

And five years later, on April 4, 1968, a small-time hood and black-hater with a rifle assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, the much-loved, much-hated black civil rights leader best known for his 1963 speech “I Have a Dream,” given during a major march on Washington. King was standing on a motel balcony when he was struck by a bullet fired by James Earl Ray from the window of a motel across the street.

Then, just two months later, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy was murdered by a young Arab nutcase named Sirhan Sirhan. Kennedy was walking through a hotel kitchen after speaking at a Democratic political rally. Sirhan had a troubled history and was furious with Kennedy because of his support for Israel.

In those days the murders were committed one at a time, but otherwise they were similar to the rash of massacres we have been having in the United States in recent years. And these days celebrities mostly travel in heavy vehicles with tinted windows, in some cases armored.

Now the murders have gone from the retail to the wholesale level and targets are usually vulnerable people, especially in large groups. Nowadays the nut-jobs tend to use higher-capacity weapons and kill many more people during their murderous moments on the world stage. But they are the same kind of jerks with the same kind of problems and motives as those we saw in the 1960s.

Predictably the anti-gun crowd wants to outlaw some kinds of weapons. But the law already exists that should keep guns out of the hands of such people. Many guns can be bought on the black market but in the latest case, when a nut with a semi-automatic weapon strode into a Texas church and started mowing down parishioners, the Air Force had failed to notify the FBI of Devin P. Kelley’s record for assault of his wife and her child as well as his criminal record. Kelley was able to buy weapons because he was not on the national database that gun sellers use to make sure it’s OK to sell to an individual.

Kelley was also a man with known mental illness who should not have been running free among the public. But mental health officials say they don’t have the funding to handle many such people so the public just has to accept potentially dangerous characters in its midst.

We have a badly flawed system here and the last place the blame should be placed is on the guns.

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