Another mass murder, another shooting spree, leaving bodies bullet-riddled by a legally obtained weapon. This time, it was Oak Creek, Wis., at a Sikh temple, as people gathered for their weekly worship. President Barack Obama said Monday, “I think all of us recognize that these kinds of terrible, tragic events are happening with too much regularity for us not to do some soul-searching.” Amidst the carnage, platitudes. With an average of 32 people killed by guns in this country every day — the equivalent of five Wisconsin massacres per day — both major parties refuse to deal with gun control. It’s the consensus, not the gridlock, that’s the problem.
The president’s press secretary, Jay Carney, said, “We need to take common-sense measures that protect Second Amendment rights and make it harder for those who should not have weapons under existing law from obtaining weapons.” It’s important to note where Jay Carney made that point, reiterating the phrase “common sense” five times in relation to the President’s intransigence against strengthening gun laws, and invoking “Second Amendment” a stunning eight times. He spoke from the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House, named after one of Mr. Carney’s predecessors, shot in the head by John Hinckley during the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady survived and co-founded with his wife the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. After each of these massacres, the Brady Campaign has called for strengthened gun control.
This latest mass killing was very likely a hate crime, perpetrated by Wade Michael Page, a white, 40-year-old U.S. Army veteran with links to white supremacist groups and membership in skinhead rock bands. Page grew up in Littleton, Colo., the same town where, in 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold plotted and executed their mass-murder plan at Columbine High School. Page was in the U.S. Army from 1992 to 1998. He did missile-system repairs and later was a “psychological operations” specialist, although it is not clear in what capacity, based first at Fort Bliss, Texas, then at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Page received a “general discharge” from the U.S. Army, lower than an honourable discharge, but not as bad as a dishonourable one. Reports suggest he had a problem with alcohol, with several arrests for drunken driving. He recently lost a truck-driving job for the same reason, which may have precipitated the loss of his home to foreclosure. Page may have been troubled, but he was by no means unknown. After the shooting, FBI Special Agent Teresa Carlson of Milwaukee told the press, “There may be references to him in various files, and those are things that are being analyzed right now, but, we had no reason to believe, and as far as we know, no law-enforcement agency had any reason to believe that he was planning or plotting or capable of such violence.”
Page was a prominent member of the neo-Nazi skinhead music scene, was known to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks right-wing hate groups, and was also personally interviewed, between 2001 and 2003, by Pete Simi, associate professor of criminology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Despite the arrests, despite the history of membership in hate groups, Page was able to walk into a gun shop and buy the 9 mm pistol legally, according to the shop owner. The fact that it was legal is the problem.
As if on cue, two days after Page’s murderous rampage in Wisconsin, Jared Loughner appeared in court to plead guilty to the shooting spree in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and many injured, including former member of Congress Gabrielle Giffords. Loughner has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and will spend the rest of his life behind bars. Patricia Maisch survived the shooting. As Loughner was tackled that day in January 2011, Maisch grabbed the high-capacity magazine that Loughner was using to reload his gun. Maisch and two other survivors of that shooting have launched an advertisement with the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, demanding that both President Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney come up with a plan to deal with guns in this country.
The day after the Wisconsin shooting, I spoke with Gurcharan Grewal, president of the Sikh Religious Society of Wisconsin. He told me:
“Ultimately, the problem comes to gun control. I don’t know when we’re going to get serious about all this, and I don’t know how many more lives it will take before something will be done. “
Neither Obama nor Romney agrees that gun control is the answer. It will take a movement to make it happen.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.
Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the author of Breaking the Sound Barrier, recently released in paperback and now a New York Times best-seller.