For this Write Anything Wednesday, I’d thought I would talk about two somber anniversaries. One date seems like it takes forever to come and the other just sneaks up on me.
April 19 and April 20th are in fact two somber anniversaries in American history. April 19, 2016 was the 21st anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombings. When I started this post, the date was April 20, 2016. This date holds significance because it is the 17th anniversary of the Columbine School Shootings. I remember both days, actually, although I was too young to truly understand the magnitude of either, really.
There are indelible images from the first, though. One is, of course, the scene of the destroyed Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Another was of a firefighter holding up what looked to be the corpse of a toddler. The building had a day care center, so the bastards behind that attack were responsible for killing children.
There is also a third anniversary involved here. On April 19, 1993, the Waco, Texas debacle happened. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF — which has since added Explosives to its name) lead the disastrous raid on the Branch Davidian compound. The compound housed a religious sect that David Koresh had taken over by 1990 and would turn into a cult. After a four-hour standoff left 10 people — four ATF agents and six followers of Koresh — dead, there would be a 51-day standoff between the ATF and Koresh’s group that ended with an inferno . All told, 78 people died, but Koresh was killed by a shot to the head.
The bombing was of course the worst of these three events, but they all have common threads. Even before he took over the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, Koresh — then known by his birth name, Vernon Wayne Howell — had started stockpiling weapons and used guns to try to forcefully take over the religious sect. As leader, he told his followers to stockpile weapons as part of an apocalyptic prophecy. Timothy McVeigh, who had “acquired a penchant for guns,” was one of the two named attackers (along with Terry Nichols). It was discovered that both had been a part of militia group. McVeigh cited the Waco incident by name as a reason for his actions. Eric Harris and Dillon Klebold used guns to carry out their attacks. Gun control is still being fiercely debated today. Also, the Columbine shooting was an example of domestic terrorism. Militias of course still exist and they are basically breeding domestic terrorists. There is all the talk of militant Islamists — especially after September 11, 2001 — but domestic terrorists are more of a threat to Americans, at least on a cumulative basis.
The Waco infernal in particular highlights problems we have with law enforcement… and wars. In that case, the problems with law enforcement were definitely protocol and missed opportunities. The shootout itself was ill-advised. And even before, there were opportunities for Koresh to be apprehended outside the compound. The government knew that Koresh and his followers had war-grade weapons and it was also known that the followers would be willing to kill anyone who threatened Koresh. In terms of war, it goes to show how difficult — if not impossible — it is for an invading army to be successful against insurgents.
A cruel sort of irony involved McVeigh and Nichols. Both had served in the Armed Forces and McVeigh would especially develop a serious mistrust of the government.
The Columbine shooters’ case brought up at least a couple issues. One, they acted after claiming they had been ostracized by the popular kids. They, however, killed people who weren’t necessarily popular. I don’t know if that was propelled by a damaged masculinity (and I kinda hate that argument anyway), but something needs to be said about how they felt about guns. That leads me to two, the discussion of the weapons they used is part of a discussion on gun control. In particular gun shows, where many people could buy weapons without background checks, were mentioned.
Gun control is the hot-button issue. I’m not going to get into an argument about gun control here, but it really needs to be discussed openly and earnestly by both sides. Mental health is often brought up, even by those in office or running for office, but that misses the point. It’s not an either/or type of issue and what have we done in regards to addressing mental health anyway? And while, yes, people can kill others with by other means, the fact remains that guns were the weapon of choice for most of the people these incidents and numerous ones that grab headlines year after year in the United States.
These somber anniversaries go by, some of us pay our respects, and then we just go about our own lives. Then we act surprised when someone shoots up another school or workplace.
The sad thing is I fear that many — especially lawmakers and law enforcement — haven’t really learned the lessons from each of the three incidents I mentioned by name. We really need to talk about gun control. We really need to talk about weapons. We really need good mental health programs. And more importantly, we all need more accountability from authority figures.