On Tuesday, Feb. 13, Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer was gunned down in the city’s Thompson Center. Instantly grief overwhelmed every law enforcement agency in the nation. The next day, Feb. 14, the school shooting in Parkland, Florida dominated the news. Within one day, even before funerals for the victims could be arranged, public outcry shrieked, “Stop the violence! We need more gun controls!”
I empathize with the grief of the victims’ families. I agree with the need to prevent gun misuse and the call to stop the violence. But I abhor the politicizing of the tragedies by special interest groups. The shootings brought the anti-gun faction to the forefront of the public arena. The NRA tightened its political hold. It’s a standoff. Cooperation between the various factions to explore ways to stop the carnage is not even mentioned.
Calls for more gun controls have been heard since the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963. Over time, increasingly stringent gun regulations have been instituted. None have achieved their intended goals, and the numbers of shootings and victims have increased. There are no federal gun controls, and there is no uniformity of gun controls among the states. A person can purchase a firearm in a state with lax regulation and bring it back to a state with stringent controls. Misuse of a weapon, however, is a personal choice.
Coincidental with the Chicago and Florida shootings, the Chicago Tribune released the conclusion of a study that suggested gun controls don’t work. Not much notice was taken of the Tribune’s report. The study faded into obscurity, leaving the opposing gun-rights factions in a test of wills while children clamor to have their lives saved.
Significant differences between the perpetrators of the two shootings must be noted. Shomari Legghette, the murderer of Commander Bauer, is a lifelong recidivist criminal. He obtained his weapon in the underground market and circumvented background checks. The murderer showed he has no morality. He exemplifies lawlessness, a disregard for human life, and an opposition toward rules for civilized living.
Nikolas Cruz, the Florida shooter, exhibited symptoms of mental instability which were ignored by the FBI. He became destabilized by his mother’s death. Cruz bought his AR-15 rifle legally, before his emotional crisis. His background checks revealed no criminality and could not reveal his mental instability. Records of mental health problems and treatment are guarded by HIPAA privacy laws, and require a court order for disclosure. Laws protect the troubled from being stigmatized.
Therein lies the complexity of the two tragedies. One is the result of immorality, and the other of mental instability. Both are beyond the reach of legislation. Both mandate new innovative responses.
Frustrated and disheartened, I ask, “What and where are the means and measures to prevent future tragedies? How is morality instilled in humans? How can a separation between right and wrong be assured in a deranged mind?”
I don’t know where the answers lie. Youthful creative minds and their ideals-inspired energy must be engaged in the search. The answers must not be left blowing in the wind, like Bob Dylan says in his song.
Fred Natkevi is a longtime resident of Oak Park.