I’ve only been to Connecticut once. Hartford, never Newtown.
It was the winter of 1968 following the June I graduated from high school and Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I went to visit my girlfriend Denise at the University of Hartford. She had been one of three friends with me that night at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles when Sen. Kennedy was shot. The four of us remain very close, perhaps because of what we shared that night and the days and weeks that followed. We were only 18 that year: young, impassioned, impressionable and eager to make the world a better place.
When my friends and I returned to Kennedy campaign headquarters after the senator’s death, we packed up the office and locked the door behind us. But our work was just beginning. We spent our free time that summer after high school and before college in shopping mall parking lots gathering signatures on a petition for gun control.
We could not vote yet, but we had earned the right to ask for those signatures. We were the children who witnessed the unspeakable: our president shot to death in Dallas; the leader of the civil rights movement, a minister, shot to death in Memphis; and the senator from New York and 1968 presidential candidate shot down in Los Angeles.
I was in eighth grade when our teacher was called out of the classroom then returned, pale and trembling, to break the news to us about JFK. That was nearly 50 years ago, but I remember the moment and how devastated I felt. That experience impacted a generation.
I turned on my computer yesterday and read Facebook posts blaming the media for what happened in Newtown. The media has done its job, giving me and others like me the opportunity to get to know Newtown.
On one hand you could say we are voyeurs, putting that poor community under the microscope in its darkest hours and watching to see what will happen next. But I think it’s critical that we spend this time with Newtown. It could be Crescent City or Smith River or Gasquet. The more we see, the more we should be able to relate to the families and the community. Maybe we will see the children of Newtown as our own and perhaps then we will finally make the time and find the courage to come to terms with just talking civilly about gun regulation.
Thirty years after Robert Kennedy’s assassination, in May 1998, Kip Kinkel walked onto the campus of Thurston High School near Springfield, Ore., about four hours from here. He had his father’s Ruger semi-automatic rifle. After killing his parents, he entered the school cafeteria and killed two students and wounded 22 more.
The media was not to blame then and is not responsible now. If you’re angry about what happened in Newtown or at Clackamas Town Center Mall last week or any of at least 61 mass murders in the U.S. in the last 30 years or 31 school shootings in the U.S. since Columbine in 1999 (as reported by ABC News), then begin the discourse about measures that might be put into place to avoid a recurrence of these tragedies.
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields said Friday night on the “News Hour,” “We have the thoughts and prayers and the flags at half-mast, but we don’t have a debate … a discussion. In many states it’s easier to buy an automatic weapon than rent an automobile … if we can license people who clip our toenails and arrange prize fights, we sure as hell ought to be able to license people who have automatic weapons.”
Denise sent me a text right after the news about Newtown came out. I can’t repeat her words in print — they were written in anger and frustration — but the gist of it was, “Didn’t we try to fix this back in ’68? What’s wrong? Why has nothing been done yet?”