With a name like “Whitman” you would think Charles Joseph Whitman would have been a writer, a poet. Instead he was the Texas tower sniper who shocked America in 1966. “What’s wrong with America these days?” …people asked after he climbed a tower at Texas A&M post using knives to murder his own mother and his wife. From that tower he murdered 11 people and wounded 31 before officers killed him.
In 1972 Harry Chapin’s song Sniper came out and, once again, America was shocked. There were plenty of people arguing that it was seriously wrong to release a song that reflected back upon the Texas tower shootings. I remember it being called anti-American (a normal charge in the time of Nam) and that maybe even Harry was also sick. But the truth is Harry was a storyteller and the song not only chronicles what happened but attitudes of the time that are still around, like excuses given for what Charles Joseph Whitman did. And Sniper also reflects on Whitman’s mental state during the shootings and before.
Seems normal these day, or should I have typed “just one day?” Mass shootings had a slow uptick in America over the years where, at first, a few a year, in comparison. Then, starting in 2017, there was an almost literal full automatic machine gunning of mass murder events.
Recently one of my oldest friends (Hi, Glen!) shared a song with me that followed the Chapin trend. Released many years later by Sufjan Stevens, written about John Wayne Gacy. Pretty much everyone in America knew about Sniper and the controversy surrounding the song. Unfortunately shock factor seems to have been as severely inoculated us against the shock factor when it comes to mass murder, no matter how it was done. So I heard nothing about the Gacy song. I have Glen Carella to… thank(?)… for exposing me to a great song.
It’s as if the guy in the park with the trench coat has a machine gun instead of he had his…
No, Glen, that’s not you.
If you look at the Wikipedia entry regarding such shootings it’s obvious that eventually it was a faster uptick, but slower in comparison. But then it became like multiple land mines were going off with every tiny daily step. Especially if we consider just this year alone. How many more in 2024, 2025, 2026…?
I don’t want to know, do you?
But accepting as part of society, being inspired by, violent rhetoric IS more than just some small part of the problem.
Reasons given for this sudden blast of mass murder events vary from quaint, to silly, to outright idiotic. “We took God out of schools?” That was the early 60’s. Talk about a “delayed reaction,” and doesn’t explain the recent mines going off almost 70 years later. As with all things we shoot at politically convenient targets: the left, the right, mental illness and of course guns, or at least a type of gun. Yet all these things existed before. These guns exist elsewhere where their yearly shootings don’t approach the number of ours. Certainly guns have become more efficient killing machines, but disregarding what we do, or don’t do, when it comes to guns obviously we have far more than a “gun problem.” And seems we also have too much acceptance for such violence in general. Either way, we obviously have a rage problem and an inability to control ourselves.
It’s no coincidence that not that long ago a mother who drove her son across state lines with a gun purchased by a neighbor so that son could get that gun once of age would be considered a bad mother. No one would defend people beating cops to death, planting pipe bombs, disregarding a cop’s order to stop trying to break though to get at our politicians so they might hang them. No coincidence that violent rhetoric is not condemned as much as it should be when that rhetoric serves the purpose politicians and pundits who gain political advantage from interested in enraging sick minds.
We are talking ourselves into the much blathered about Civil War.
As a society we have become the bullies who used to beat up kids after school, only we don’t wait until after school and mass murder is the weapon, not just fists. It’s as if we’re intentionally setting fire to society and making sure that fire reaches the propane and gas tanks.
Toss aside the mental illness excuse those who have no interest in funding addressing that issue rely on. There’s plenty of mental illness around. Plenty of mentally ill people who don’t walk into schools, churches, bowling alleys, stores and commit mass murder.
Whatever we do, somehow we have to identify possible mass murderers and have authorities at least keep their eyes on them. And their actions, like buying weapons normally used for such purposes these days, need to be part of that equation. I recommend no confiscations: those guns will be replaced, and people will find ways around laws, like getting a neighbor to purchase a weapon for an underage boy. But most “solutions,” to me, seem more symptom related. Identifying and acting before the act seems far more important to me.
Looking over the list of mass shootings in 2023 alone makes me realize, as a terrible, as horrific, as it is, that one more mass shooting has become just another normal day in America.
“Inspection” is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 50 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
Ken Carman and Cartenual Productions.
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