When it came out that Lee Harvey Oswald killed the President of the United States, in 1963, with an Italian bolt-action rifle that he bought under a false name via mail order for $19.95 (plus postage and handling) Congress fairly leapt into action.
“If guns are to be kept out of the hands of the criminal, out of the hands of the insane, and out of the hands of the irresponsible, then we must have licensing,” newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson said as he signed a bill restricting the sale of mail-order firearms.
Actually it wasn’t until 1968 that LBJ finally got to sign a rather tepid gun control bill – one without his licensing requirement.
Politicians won’t even cross the NRA to protect their own.
Still, let’s not gloss over the possible significance of that five-year – well, call it a “waiting period” – between the time Oswald’s bullets struck home and Congress finally did something about mail-order guns.
The year of the barricades?
“1968 was a year of revolution,” says historyguide.org. “In a period of unprecedented material prosperity and cultural activity, the sons and daughters of the most privileged sections of the United States and of Europe decided to make their own revolution.
“The year of the barricades served as a symbol of everything an entire generation of young people detested about the generation of their parents: the ‘It,’ the System, the Establishment.”
Yes, it was very much a youth-driven revolution. Certainly Gainesville experienced its own days of rage as young anti-war and civil rights protests spilled out into University Avenue and 13th St.
Speaking of kids, did anybody notice how polite and well behaved were the survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting who went to Tallahassee after the bloodshed to ask their elected representatives to please redress their grievances?
Said grievances being their dread and horror over the prospect of being among the next wave of innocent children caught in the crosshairs of an angry young man with an AR15.
They stood in the House visitors box in respectful, if appalled, silence as their elected representatives deemed it more important to debate pornography than so much as talk about a ban on military-grade guns designed to kill a lot of people in a very short period of time.
Even the teenagers who staged a three minute lay-down in front of the White House carried out their act of symbolic death without fuss, muss or bother.
Three minutes being the time it took Nikolas Jacob Cruz to extinguish 17 lives at Stoneman Douglas.
Of course, 2018 isn’t 1968. Back then a terrible war without end, racial strife, civil discord, economic inequality and a growing contempt for governmental authority were among the factors that finally sent America’s young into the streets and onto the barricades.
Nothing like today.
Still, there is little doubt that a new generation of, well, let’s just call them concerned citizens, is waking up and wondering what’s going on. They have grave doubts about the efficacy and fairness of the system they are inheriting. And they are appalled that so many politicians can be so easily bought by a gun lobby that doesn’t care how many children must die to protect their profits.
Prudent politicians might want to consider, at this critical juncture, that it is better to show this upcoming generation of voters that the system really can work for them. That problems can be solved by policy rather than polemics.
Before the barricades go up and it’s 1968 all over again.
Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. This blog post was originally published in The Sun in Feb. 2018.