Two tragedies that spurred gun control debate

Two tragedies that spurred gun control debate

From the exhibit, The day JFK was shot: A retrospective in the Science/History Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. Running through February. [Photo: David Kramer, 2/22/18]

Running through February in the Science/History Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County is a small but captivating exhibit: The day JFK was shot: A retrospective.  Flanked by a life-sized cut out of John Kennedy, the display cases contain newspapers, books and magazines from the library’s collection related to Kennedy’s assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22nd, 1963.

The blaring headlines of newspapers from around the nation still resonate with the shock of that fateful day.  The headlines reminded me of other photographs I’ve seen of stunned passengers in subways and trains reading newspapers in silence.

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From the exhibit, The day JFK was shot: A retrospective in the Science/History Division of the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. [Photo: David Kramer, 2/23/18]

Last week we awoke to another shooting tragedy, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Sadly, we’ve almost become desensitized to these acts of violence.  But, we are told, this time might be different as students from around the county demand meaningful action.

In relation to the Parkland killings, often overlooked is that Kennedy’s assassination also led to a nation-wide gun debate.

As reported by ABC News‘ Kevin Dolak on the fiftieth anniversary of JFK’s death, Gun Debate Spurred by Kennedy Assassination Rages on Today (Nov. 21, 2013), a dozen firearm bills were introduced in the wake of the assassination.  Most failed, but factored into the overall tightening of gun laws since 1963.

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From the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park. [Photo: David Kramer 2/22/18] Of small note, Kennedy did not die in his wife’s arms but actually survived the trip to Parkland Hospital. See 56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here.

At the same time, Kennedy’s assassination and subsequent calls for new gun control laws prompted responses from gun rights advocates like the NRA:  In the days after the shooting, the NRA stated:

Gun restriction laws penalize the honest man and protect the criminal element. Even if you did ban all guns, criminals will find a way to get them.

The rhetoric and the flash points of the debate seem little changed in 55 years.

See also  Kennedy Assassination and America’s Gun Culture. Watch a 1963 report here.

As explained by Dolak, one aspect of the assassination was particularly vexing. Oswald had purchased his rifle, a Mannlicher-Carcano, for $12.78 through an ad placed in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine by a Chicago mail order house. A ban was introduced by Thomas Dodd, D-Conn, on mail order sales of rifles and shotguns.

Dodd’s bill failed.  It finally took the murder of Bobby Kennedy five years later to advance the legislation. In 1968 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Gun Control Act into law, banning mail order sales of rifles and shotguns and prohibiting most felons, drug users and people found mentally incompetent from buying guns.

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From the Vietnam Veteran’s Walk of Honor in Highland Park. From In ’68 when Vice President Humphrey and former Vice President Nixon campaigned in Rochester

We don’t yet know the ramifications of the current debates and whether Parkland will be a watershed moment or just another numbing shooting in an unending series of numbing shootings.  Nor do we know if the outcome will be more armed teachers or more bans on assault weapons.

Crime

Highland Park, 2/5/18 [Photo: David Kramer] From Larry Nassar and the Myths of Violence

ALSO ON JFK AND RFK 

56 years ago when JFK spoke at the War Memorial. Two days after his debate with Nixon. Nine days after RFK was here.

November 3rd, 1964: When Rochester’s Senator Keating lost to RFK in the wake of LBJ’s landslide.

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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