Two days ago, a young man opened fire at a small college in Roseburg, Oregon, killing nine people and injuring twenty. It is the same city that 47 years ago Senator Robert F. Kennedy stood making an impassioned speech for gun law legislation.
Mass shootings have become commonplace in the United States. In fact, we are into the 276th day in 2015. Yet, there have been 294 shootings in which at least four people were shot in one spree or setting. What do we hear from our politicians about it? On the Democratic side, we have individuals demanding stricter gun control. On the Republican side, we have individuals stating that we actually need more lenient gun laws. We need everyone carrying guns so they can shoot bad people. We have the National Rifle Association taking to the airways with scare tactics and speaking in a totally inflexible tone no matter how tragic these killing have become.
Incredibly, on May 27, 1968, Robert Kennedy came to Roseburg, Oregon, and stood in front of a very hostile crowd of lumber workers, hunters, and others carrying signs “Protect Your Right to Keep and Bear Arms”. Senator Kennedy was running for the Democratic presidential candidate position, and was in Roseburg arguing in support of a crime bill pending in the U.S. Congress to restrict certain access to purchase guns. Senator Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy, had been assassinated on November 22, 1963, by an individual who purchased his rifle through mail order.
Senator Kennedy stated:
Now does that make any sense that you should put rifles and guns into the hands of people who have long criminal records, or people who are insane, or people who are mentally incompetent, or people so young they don’t know how to handle rifles or guns. I just ask you.
Robert Kennedy was assassinated 10 days later, with an individual firing a 22-caliber revolver. Yet, nothing has changed. The arguments being made 47 years ago are still being made today. We now lead the entire world in the number of mass shootings per year per capita.
Sadly, nothing even changed in Roseburg after Senator Kennedy made his poignant remarks. Today, the Sheriff in Roseburg is John Hanlin. He is an individual who shortly after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut questioned whether it was a government hoax. He also sent a strongly-worded letter to Vice President Joe Biden stating that he would oppose any new gun control laws that might be passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and insisted that politicians were using the tragedy to push a political agenda.
Today, Mr. Hanlin is the sheriff of the town where another mass school shooting occurred, and nothing again will change. Robert F. Kennedy’s words will once again be forgotten.
Watch Robert Kennedy Speaking at Roseburg on May 27, 1968, and the news coverage surrounding it.
The following article appeared in the The New York Times May 28, 1968 at page 10.