In August 1966, Jeff Shero was a recent graduate of the University of Texas and national vice president of Students for a Democratic Society. (A longtime fighter for progressive causes, Shero writes today under the byline Jeff Shero Nightbyrd.) In the August 11, 1966, issue of the Village Voice, he contributed a visceral and moving article about a then-relatively new phenomenon on the American landscape: the lone gunman (most often a white male) using high-powered weapons to indiscriminately gun down strangers.
Motives are meaningless amid such mayhem, as we discovered once again in Las Vegas this past Sunday. But the fact that as a nation we cannot pass laws to stem this ongoing carnage — as Australia did in 1996, passing measures that have led firearm fatalities to dramatically drop in all categories — speaks to a cynicism in our government’s failure to protect its own citizens.
Fifty-one years ago, Americans were not yet conditioned to duck and cover at the sound of gunshots, as we are today. Shero quoted one young woman who could not process what she was seeing: “I never saw any blood even after they had lain there a long while. I guess I repressed it. It was like watching people killed on television.” Shero also pointed out: “Guns are common possessions in Texas. Students got them from their rooms, businessmen out of their stores. A student and policeman returned fire from the undergraduate library; three students shot from the Business-Economics building.” Despite this firepower, armed students remained unable, for an hour and a half, to stop the gunman who rained death down from the tower on UT’s campus, eventually killing more than a dozen people and injured more than thirty.
In 1972 the singer/songwriter Harry Chapin wrote a deeply strange, multi-viewpoint ode to the tragic events in Texas on that hot August day in 1966.