Monday, January 20, 2020

Post-Vietnam Assault Weapons Blues

For the second time in three years heavily armed individuals are gathering in a Virginia place that has special meaning in my life.  This time the place is Capitol Square in Richmond where I worked eight years as an analyst for the General Assembly. On August 12, 2017 they gathered in Charlottesville where I spent six years in college and graduate school.  That gathering erupted in violence and death.  This year, authorities seem to have locked down the area far better than in Charlottesville so perhaps the day will end with no one injured or killed.

My unease with these gathering is not based on my differences with Second Amendment advocates about legislation regulating firearms.  Same-same with the opponents of removing Confederate monuments from places of public honor in Charlotttesville.  Protesting or against policies and making one's views known to policy-makers is as old as the idea of America itself.  I've exercised that right plenty of times in my life and won't deny the same to anyone else, regardless of my differences with them.

What disturbs me is the open display of weaponry, especially assault rifles with magazines in place (and maybe  a round in the firing chamber).  The weapons are legal but seeing groups armed to the teeth marching on city streets where I once lived represents an acceptance of violence that I would rather not have in my life.  Our wars are bleeding into what should be places of domestic tranquility.

The assault rifles and other military hardware disturb me because I know what they are for--to kill people, lots of people.  I carried an M-16 in Vietnam.  My job was to put out a high rate of fire.  If my and my buddies' bullets were insufficient, then we'd call in helicopter gunships to rake the area with rapid fire miniguns, grenade launchers and aerial rockets.  For many years after Vietnam I found solace in the absence of that weaponry.

Not so much any more.  Weapons are everywhere and mass shootings are a common occurrence.  When my office began having active shooter training I felt like I was back in the jungle on the alert for ambushes.  Actually, I had that feeling even before we had the training since I was already figuring out how my ambush training could be put to use if our office was ever attacked.

So seeing all of the weapons on display in Richmond today and Charlottesville in 2017 leaves me sad.  I have many fond memories from living in both places.  None of those memories included weapons and violence.  Those years sure helped me put Vietnam behind me.  But Vietnam is never too far behind.  On days like this and that August 2017 day in Charlottesville it catches up with me.

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