I am constantly amazed at how easy it is to overlook the obvious until somehow the facts connect to our own experiences. Eleven days ago, as I was recovering in the hospital from back surgery, I heard the news of the Fort Hood massacre. Naturally, most of the news coverage focused on the number of dead and only briefly mentioned that 31 people were wounded.
As I was attempting to cope with the pain of a highly-controlled, planned-in-advance surgery, I found myself thinking of the pain and agony of those 31 human beings who were dealing with the trauma of unexpected gunshot wounds. I was forced to reflect how often we concentrate on the death totals of gun violence in America and overlook the fact that every day in our country 215 people are shot with guns and survive. What about them? They deserve more from our society, both in terms of resources and support.
I was also struck by the irony that Fort Hood is located in Killeen, Texas. Killeen is where one of the deadliest rampage shootings in American history took place in 1991, when an unemployed ex-Navy enlistee crashed his pickup truck into a popular cafeteria, pulled out two handguns, and killed 23 people before taking his own life. That tragedy held the “record” for America’s worst shooting massacre until 2007, when a Virginia Tech student shot and killed 32 students and faculty. In another tragic twist, it turns out the Fort Hood shooter was a graduate of Virginia Tech in 1997.
The state of Texas reacted to the 1991 shootings in Killeen by enacting a law freeing up gun owners to carry concealed handguns in public. At the behest of the National Rifle Association, many other states followed suit. Perhaps predictably, the reaction from the gun lobby was similar after the Fort Hood shootings. Describing military bases as gun-free zones, commentators like John Lott have blamed the tragedy on their strict rules concerning concealed, private handguns. The law-abiding, not the criminals, are the ones who obey the ban on guns, says Lott.
Of course, there is an irony here as well. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Fort Hood Shooter, held a concealed handgun permit in the state of Virginia. Furthermore, Virginia permits are recognized as valid in the state of Texas. Hasan, by Lott s definition, was one of the law-abiding citizens who would have made his fellow service members safer by carrying a concealed handgun on military installations.
That type of logic is exactly what our service members don t need, and hopefully it will be rejected by the U.S. Congress as it considers how to respond to the tragedy. For now, however, we should all turn our thoughts to the families who have lost loved ones, and to the 31 brave Americans who have long recovery processes ahead of them.