I remember watching the TV news on February 1, 1968 when this film of a suspected Viet Cong agent being assassinated by a South Vietnamese Army colonel flashed across the screen. The shooting took place during the Tet Offensive and this one picture changed the entire course of the war.
Until that moment, there were still lots of folks who were against the war but hoped that maybe, just maybe we could find a way to wind things down but also protect the South Vietnamese. War was bad, but so was an immediate retreat. The picture above put an end to that argument once and for all.
This picture can be found on the final page of my latest book on guns which is available on Amazon as of today. The book is in print right now, the Kindle edition will appear shortly. It is Volume 10 in my Guns in America series, it is also the longest book by far, running some 66,000 words along with charts, graphs, maps nd copious footnotes – the whole bit. Incidentally, the previous 9 volumes can be purchased en toto in a Kindle edition for $49.95. I’m not trying to stack up my royalties; in fact, I just found out that Amazon has created this Kindle offer.
The reason I end the new book with the photo of the shooting in Saigon is because the whole point of this book is to discuss the way we have been talking about gun violence over the last seven or eight years. Concerns about gun violence were raised here and there from time to time going back to the assassination of JFK in 1963 and the passage of the big gun law in 1968. But it wasn’t until the massacre at Sandy Hook in December, 2012, that gun control became a continuous discussion, particularly within the many gun-control groups that sprang up after that date. The Newtown massacre also provoked the medical profession to get more involved in talking about guns and gun violence, ditto more research attention paid to this issue within the academic world, particularly public health.
The problem I have with this far-reaching concern about gun violence is that virtually all of the discussions within the gun-control community focus on the issue of violence without any concern or even awareness about the issue of guns. The gun-research community has published endless studies which explain who gets shot, where they get shot, how they got shot and why they get shot. But I can’t think of a single piece of research which tells me anything about the people who do the shooting. How can you create an ‘epidemiology’ of gun violence (the public health researcher’s favorite word) if you don’t know how and why the behavior which causes the injury actually spreads?
Which is what I try to do in this new book. Talk about how and why a certain number of individuals pick up a gun and use it to harm themselves or someone else. I trace this behavior – with data and personal testimonies – back to long before there was any professed concern about the violence caused by guns. And that’s why the book ends with the picture of one guy shooting another guy in South Vietnam, because when all is said and done, there’s really no difference between a shooting on a street in Saigon and a shooting on a street in Chicago’s West Side.
Like Walter Mosley says, ‘You walk around with a gun and it will go off, sooner or later.’