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TAKE THREE / Three Views of the Southland | AL MARTINEZ

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet

April 03, 1998|AL MARTINEZ

I have a friend named Jeffrey who is 5 years old and wears magic shoes.

The shoes are a pair of blue Nikes with transparent bubble-like additions on the back, which is probably where the magic is stored.

They allow Jeffrey to run like the wind, to leap like a gazelle and to spin like a tornado over the ground he occupies.

It was my privilege to buy him the shoes in a mall where, he knew beforehand, cool shoes are kept.

Jeffrey knows just about everything worth knowing, among which is that strawberries are made from apples and the coolest shoes are blue Nikes.

He also informed me once after the manner of a sage lecturing a disciple that anything green is a vegetable, I mean a vegeable, and should not under any circumstance be eaten.

On the day I bought him the magic shoes he scooted through crowds in the mall with blinding speed, spun several times in a clearing and then leaped from a bench provided for old men to rest their tired feet on.

These were the shoes, he informed me, he would wear when he started kindergarten, which will be his destination in the fall. The realization stopped me cold.

The schoolyard killings in Jonesboro, Ark., were still very much in my mind when he said that, and the idea of sending him off to school in an age of gunfire sent an involuntary chill through me.

*

The thought stayed with me for the remainder of the day, long after the children of Jonesboro were buried, the prayers said and the tears all cried.

And it will stay with me as the two young killers are led down the corridors of due process and perhaps even when they emerge, years later, at the other end, bearing like scarlet letters the labels of their crime.

Will we ever be cured of the insanity of weapons rights that imperil my friend Jeffrey and the little boys and girls you hold dear?

Will we ever recover from the madness that compels us to amass the firearms that have murdered so many on the streets and now in the schools?

The gun-love psychology of the National Rifle Assn. has filtered down from collectors and animal killers to kids. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 12 students have carried guns to school.

I would be guilty of emotional gunslinging myself if I said the NRA was singularly responsible for the fact that a child is the victim of gun violence every 90 minutes in this country.

We are a society awash in blood, and the glamorized version of the guy with a Beretta has become the cult hero of a generation. We celebrate killing the way we once celebrated winning, and they have somehow become synonymous in a culture already afraid of the dark.

The NRA, however, does bear huge responsibility for encouraging the proliferation of weapons, and it is this proliferation that has turned kids into killers and school into a dangerous playground.

*

We make much of protecting animals and ending cigarette smoking. Every child in our neighborhood watched television reports of a gray whale named J.J., saved from death last year, being returned to her home in the sea.

And just yesterday children across the country joined in a campaign to intensify the war against cigarette smoking by creating anti-tobacco posters, writing reports and hearing lectures on the dangers of nicotine.

The campaigns to love animals and fight the tobacco industry gained adherents even as a gun show in Costa Mesa was glorifying its wares without a voice raised in protest.

We listen in silence as Ann Reiss Lane, co-founder of Women Against Gun Violence, asks, "Where is the rage?" Where indeed.

We tiptoe into campaigns against firearms in whispery attacks on assault weapons and Saturday night specials and by the timid expediency of limiting the sale of bullets. Even then, gun lovers resist every step of the way.

I hear often that you can't fight the NRA, that its ownership of our dollar-tagged legislators makes it invulnerable to attack.

But the tobacco industry also seemed invincible until we declared all-out war against the evil of its products and sent it reeling. The weapons produced by gun manufacturers are no less dangerous than a cigarette.

I keep wondering along with Ann Reiss Lane when animal lovers and cigarette haters will come to realize that melting down a gun is as important and life-sustaining as saving a whale or dousing a cigarette butt.

And I keep wondering when a mighty roar of rage will signal like trumpet blasts that the war against guns has truly begun.

Because the truth is that only Superman is faster than a speeding bullet and even with magic shoes the children who enrich our lives are not.

Al Martinez's e-mail address is al.martinez@latimes.com

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