3 June 2016
I grew up in west suburban Houston, Texas on a sleepy street called Wycliffe Drive. I led the kind of life you hear us Gen-Xers mourning these days. We were the last kids to grow up without video games. We had no digital devices, no phones, no internet, no cable TV. We played outside until the streetlights came on, and during the hours and hours we went missing from home we did things that would give us heart attacks now if our own kids did them.
We wandered for miles on our bikes, along snake-infested bayous and through dense woods filled with appalling numbers of poisonous creatures. We rode across fat storm pipes and played in a creek laden with iridescent oil scum, trash, and two-headed minnows. Before they put in curbs along Wycliffe Drive, our street was lined with deep, grassy ditches that filled during afternoon gullywashers. Our driveways and front walks crossed these ditches on miniature brick bridges laid over kid-sized concrete pipes. We waded in those ditches among the tadpoles, toads, and God knows what else.
Life revolved around our bikes. We tended them lovingly, washing and polishing the chrome till it shined, decorating the spokes and handlebars, attaching baskets and pouches that held everything a kid needed when abroad for twelve busy hours. We knew how to fix our own flats and sprung chains, and how to keep the tires properly inflated. In those days, we would drop by the gas station at the end of the road and use the free air pump. Then we’d be on our way for our next grand adventure.
Everything a kid needed could be gotten on Wycliffe Drive. It had gas stations at either end and 7-Elevens, too. The vet hospital where our pets were treated sat near the intersection of Memorial Drive. Behind that was a grocery store and pharmacy where we ran errands for our moms. The mile or so length of Wycliffe from Memorial clear up to the freeway was quiet and treelined—a kid’s paradise. At one point I think our gang numbered thirty.
That was a long time ago. I went back recently, and the neighborhood hasn’t changed much. At least it hadn’t until Sunday, when a gunman sprayed the intersection of Wycliffe and Memorial with 212 bullets, killing one person and injuring six others.
The details are slowly working their way out, but essentially the shooter had served in Afghanistan and suffered mental distress in the aftermath of two tours. He moved to Texas specifically because of its lax gun laws. His weapon of choice was the AR-15, a military-style rifle that features in many American mass shootings. During the standoff, he put bullets in several nearby businesses and homes, a police cruiser, and a hovering helicopter. It just happened to have been a quiet Sunday morning, but what if more people had been out and about?
People were shot in the exact spot where I used to fill my bike’s tires. Bullets flew by the convenience store where I bought candy and Slurpees. I simply can’t wrap my head around that.
Anyone who follows me knows how I feel about the current scourge of guns in America. Look, I grew up in Texas. I was around guns, I’ve fired guns. They hung in the cab of every self-respecting redneck’s pickup. But I do not own one, nor do I feel the fear many people use to justify their ownership. I absolutely respect the rights of hunters and those who sincerely need protection.
However, this nation does not need 350 million guns. What this nation DOES need is to step back and, once and for all, grapple with the reality that mentally ill people are running about with duffel bags full of guns and ammo. Yes, they need help, but so too do our regulations with respect to firearms. We need to stop listening to the NRA, an industry that couldn’t care less about our safety—they only want our business. We need to collect the data and develop programs and laws that will finally address this proliferation of weapons and mass murder. We need to acknowledge that it isn’t the terrorists and imaginary enemies who are coming for us in our sleep. It’s the fear we allow to rule us.
I lived a childhood on Wycliffe Drive, a childhood without fear. The snakes didn’t get us, nor did terrorists, abductors, or masked robbers. We wandered for hours unsupervised, and we filled our bicycle tires at the spot where someday, in the fear-ridden, angry-citizen future, innocent people would be mowed down on a quiet Sunday morning.
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