By Linda Grupp Boutin
After posting Part 1 of this series, I started asking myself why I feel so strongly about the issue of assault weapons, guns and massacres. It took some self reflection before I remembered a day in my life. It amazes me how you can push a memory down and almost forget that it happened altogether. And yet those memories linger and color how we see the world.
On a hot July day just before my 30th birthday, a nurse called me and asked me to visit a patient in a hospital with digestive issues like mine. She asked me to give this person some encouragement because of our shared problems. I didn't really want to go, but remembered a special person who had visited me at UCLA 5 years earlier on the same mission.
We only had one car at the time, so after dropping my husband off at work I drove to the nearby hospital and spent a half hour reassuring another person that the therapy she required was liveable and she would still have a life after the hospital. Gary and I had considered stopping at the McDonald's near our house on the way in, but because we were running a bit late discarded the idea. Instead, we stopped in to check our post office box for mail and drove him straight to work. He would get some dinner when he got there. We had no idea at the time how pivotal this decision would become.
These hospital visits always left me emotionally exhausted and tired and when I saw a McDonald's between the hospital and freeway, I drove through the pick-up window and bought a chocolate shake. It tasted so good with the bright San Diego sun beaming down and heating up our car with no air conditioning. I drove to the freeway and started the half hour trip back home to San Ysidro.
Just as I passed San Diego's center city, I noticed a police car ripping down the freeway past me, lights flashing, but no siren. I stayed out of his way and before another couple of minutes passed, a second police vehicle went speeding past. Now I had made this trip dozens of times and rarely saw anything more than an occasional California Highway Patrol vehicle. Soon a whole parade of police cars rolled past with a windowless police van included, all displayed flashing lights with no sirens. I started counting them and was at 7 when I was diverted off one freeway to another one. I took a different route home and wondered to myself what in the world was going on.
Once home, I said hi to our dog and flipped on the TV. All the local channels had interrupted regular broadcasts with the news. A shooting was underway less than a mile away at the very McDonald's we had been right next door to at the post office, the one where we wanted to buy Gary's dinner. I've thought about it long and hard and probably we would have left that restaurant before the gunman started shooting. But it had been very close. Only after a 77-minute standoff did a police sniper kill the gunman with a shot from the roof of the very post office where we had picked up our mail.
It stuns you when you learn you've had a near brush with death. They never reopened that McDonald's where 21 people died and another 19 were shot. Instead shortly afterwards they bulldozed the building and rebuilt a new restaurant further down the boulevard. Years later after memories had faded a bit, the City of San Diego built a college extension of Southwest College on the site. It's strange because this is the college where I took my first writing for publication class. Sometimes the degrees of separation in your life are a little too close for comfort.
So yes, I feel strongly about assault weapons. The man who affected at least 40 families in his mass murder carried an Uzi semi-automatic, a shotgun and a pistol to his crime. He lived 3 blocks from the murder site, technically making him our neighbor. Our paths had probably crossed many times. Seeing an issue up close in your own life makes a difference in how you perceive a problem. I know it has in mine. So I raise up my voice after all these years. It is time to ban assault weapons. It is time to do complete background checks. It is time to tear down that wall keeping us as a society from taking a stand. It is time to STOP these mass murders.
Thanks to Wikipedia for helping me fact-check my memory! http://en.wikipedia.org