While volunteering at the Cap-Tex Triathlon in Austin on Memorial Day, I met a woman preparing to ride her bike for 13.3 miles and run for three. The petite redhead has a great smile, and we quickly learned we’d both spent time in Milwaukee and the Chicago area. She had an accent I could not place immediately—she grew up in Poland. I knew her home country had taken in nearly a million people from Ukraine. Before I could express gratitude, the woman said her relatives in Poland were trying to locate her brother and his family in Kyiv. They hadn’t heard from them since the beginning of the war. It brought the war to a very personal note.
We did not end on a sad note but we agreed that when we meet someone one-on-one and learn about them, we learn about what we have in common, not what makes us different.
She went on her bike, and I helped others in “transition” between swim and bike, bike and run. Across the lane from me, a group of male and female Latinos heralding from Mexico, Central, and South America, and a contingency of home-grown Texans encouraged bikers as they left on their rides and called them in as they switched out with swimmers and runners in the relay.
Athletes came in every color, shape, and size, ignoring the heat (97-100 degrees) for the most part and wanting to beat their former time or set a new one. Achieving their best—that centered their thoughts.
While Americans are known for being competitive, we also reach out to help others. We can’t solve all the wrongs globally, but we have come up to the plate when the odds were stacked against vulnerable people. We take pride in our ability to help, often by gathering other countries into partnership. We are involved in Ukraine. No one wants a bully on their block.
We try to keep bullies from destroying other countries (knowing that bullies are only encouraged by any victory using their “power” against others). Likewise, we cannot allow powerful gun lobbies to destroy our peaceful playgrounds, school classrooms, movie theatres, and churches, making them battlefields where we fear to go.
Now twenty-three years after the Columbine High School shootings and all the senseless loss of life since, can we say, “ENOUGH? Not another person, young or old, will lose their life to the spray of bullets coming from an AK15.” Will we make certain background checks are not quick paperwork, focused on making a sale? Will we admit there is no peaceful purpose for a 100-round ammunition magazine and ban them?
The frontier-man actor, Reagan, carried weight with the gun lobby. Yet he supported the 1993 Brady Bill, named for his Press Secretary, paralyzed for life in the assassination attempt on Reagan’s life 12 years earlier. Neither would have survived if a bullet spray from an AK15 had hit them.
Reagan supported a mandatory background check and a five-day waiting period for gun purchases by unlicensed individuals in 1993. The federal assault weapons ban passed in 1994, prohibiting gun manufacturers from creating assault weapons for civilian use and banning large-capacity magazines. Unfortunately, the ban ended in 2004, and mass shootings increased again.
The inability to reign in the gun lobby despite the 10-year ban on assault weapons became apparent after the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. In the bombing, 168 people were killed, including 19 children in daycare, and 680 were injured. (I visited the site four years later when I was there on business.)
The response from NRA’s Wayne LaPierre? He defended the bombers as responding to “jack-booted government thugs.” But his anti-government comments were ignored by Congress. NRA “never waivers, never apologizes.” But George Bush resigned his membership after the statement, and 500,000 followed him.
We haven’t experienced repeat bombings. Why? In part because Congress passed legislation prohibiting the sale of large quantities of ammonia and other bomb-making materials to individuals. It’s easier to toat an assault rifle than carry out a full-fledged attack. Why does it seem impossible to reinstate the ban on assault weapons now? We did it before; why can’t we now after repeated needless loss of life?
You don’t find assault rifles used to kill people in Britain, France, Canada, Germany, or many other leading countries.Technology has created a killing machine that entices some moviegoers, but often it is depicted in animation without the pure horror it can create.
George Washington did not revel in killing and would have been horrified that people were being killed in this way. He and those who wrote the Second Amendment carried flintlock rifles, single shots without the ability to destroy a dozen human lives with a single sweep.
When will we be able to gain a rational solution to gun violence—one we can all live with? Please don’t let us lose our grip on the value of human life.
My new friend from Austin’s Cap-Tex came back after her races. A smile still across her face after competing 13 miles on a bike and running two more. We agreed to see each other at the 2023 Cap-Tex and hope the world will right itself by then. But in the meantime, we will appreciate the humanity in every person we meet.