Sunday December 30, 2012

RICHMOND

When my division shipped back from Europe a couple of months after Germany surrendered in World War II, I was convinced that in our green duffel bags were enough weapons, including a few 60 mm mortars, to conduct our own private war anywhere under any conditions. I, a medic who worked unarmed, personally possessed a Walther P38, which was the service pistol for the German armed forces. It replaced the Luger P08 which had proved to be too expensive to manufacture for general use.

It seemed that everybody had pistols or German rifles because they were neither too big nor too awkward to handle and were continually being traded back and forth. Infantry guys would give them to us along with cameras and jewelry when they thought we had done something extra for them. The only things I kept were an exceptional camera and this particular gun because they were so beautifully designed. One was for pleasure and the other had the ability to kill.

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There is a fascination with guns because they are able to deal with problems by blowing them away. Quick, fast and bloody. The men who carried the M16 rifles possessed that ability and they became frustrated when they had little or no opportunity to use them in battle. They were young, eager and scared and needed something to blow off the steam, so they would shoot off the glass whatevers on the tops of telephone poles.


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I will wager that by the time the war ended there wasn’t a glass whatchamacallit left on a pole in Germany.

After some years of hiding it in a closet, I sold my Walther to a Pittsfield gun collector for a small sum. But I can’t remember there being any flare-up of deadly group shootings by the veterans of World War II. Many of those guns are probably still shown proudly in glass cases by veterans or their descendants. Some may still be used for hunting or target practice. Many probably became junk and disappeared.

The mass shootings in this country had their start in 1966 when Charles Whitman stabbed his mother and wife to death and then barricaded himself on the clock tower of the University of Texas at Austin. From this sniper point he killed 14 more people and wounded 31 before he was shot to death by the police. There have been 24 additional mass murders in the United States and abroad since then, leading up to the outrage in Newtown, Conn.

Scotland had its tragedy in 1996 when a man killed 16 kindergarten children and their teacher. And in March of this year, an American army sergeant was charged with killing 16 Afghan villagers, nine of them children.

We in Berkshire County have had our own brush with a young man actively seeking to murder people who had done him no harm. In 1991, Wayne Lo of Billings, Montana, was given the W.E.B. Du Bois minority scholarship to Simon’s Rock College of Bard in Great Barrington. Of Taiwanese descent, Lo told classmates he was trying to distance himself from his father, a former Taiwanese fighter pilot.

According to other students, Lo was not a person to make friends because he was aggressively prejudiced against minorities while nearly all the other students were liberal in their personal and political lives. On the morning of Dec. 13, 1992, a college receptionist opened a package addressed to Lo from an arms supply company. It was filled with 7.62 caliber bullets. Lo explained to college officials that it was a present for his father and had been sent off as a Christmas gift.

That night an anonymous student phoned the dean’s office to say he had eaten dinner at a table with Lo and Lo had bragged he had weapons and was going to kill his residence director and her family. The family contacted the college provost who invited them to stay at his house that night. The police were not contacted..

The next morning Lo took a taxi to Pittsfield where he purchased a Chinese-manufactured SKS automatic rifle at a local gun store and returned to school. That night he went hunting for victims. He shot a receptionist twice in the stomach, killed a Spanish language teacher driving by in his car, went into the library and killed one student and wounded another.

Returning outside, Lo wounded two freshmen before his gun jammed. He dropped the gun on the ground, walked to the student center where he called police and told them what he had done. They came and got him with no fuss or bother.

The trial took a whole month as Lo’s lawyer tried the insanity plea. Two psychiatrists said he was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, but the court-appointed psychiatrist pooh-poohed that and said it was nothing more than narcissistic personality disorder. Lo was found guilty and sentenced to two life sentences with no possibility of parole.

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Lo seems to have adjusted well to prison life. He has his own website on which he sells his paintings and embroidery. The father of one of his victims, Gregory Gibson, wrote a book about the killing and because of it established a relationship with Lo. After the Newtown murders, the father wrote a letter to The New York Times saying he had been striving since the murder of his son to tighten gun laws by writing his book and articles and giving speeches, but the gun people had worn him down and he was giving up.

I say to those who want to control guns that there is a way. The Second Amendment to the Constitution may give people the right to own firearms, but it was written for a society that hunted for food and waged war with muskets, one bullet at a time. If we are going to strictly adjure to the Constitution, then that is all that should be allowed. One bullet at a time so that a teacher has the leeway to bash any potential killer in the head with an unabridged dictionary.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle
contributor.