|Public Enemy No. 1|
None of them saw it coming, but even those who managed to escape would be scarred for life. The carnage, not the first of its kind nor the last for a nation seemingly inured to periodic eruptions of slaughter, still shocked the system’s core. The crime scenes were not confined solely to grimy urban jungle recesses, and even though the episodic bloodlettings spanned decades, each body shattering impact shared one thing in common. All occurred on the same day, February 14th - St.Valentine’s Day.
Here’s how it all began, and perhaps, just perhaps, a spark of inspiration in anticipation for how it might end.
Chicago, 1929 - Prohibition was the law of the land. It banned the manufacture, transportation, and sale of booze. Unfortunately instead of realizing the sobering benefits of this temperance achievement, the country witnessed a trifecta of unintended outcomes: bootlegging, speakeasies, and gang warfare. For Chicago’s mob running these felonious operations, Prohibition was a very lucrative, but ruthless business. With Mayor Thompson and the city's police in its back pocket, the mob ruled … and mob boss Scarface Al Capone ruled the mob with an aura of invincibility. As a businessman Capone was a mega-successful millionaire. He was also not a nice guy. To protect his territory, and surely to make a point, in one outburst of turf warfare on February 14th, thugs from Capone’s gang dressed as policemen cornered seven rival hoods in a North Chicago garage. They then sprayed them with Tommy Guns, the 1929 equivalent of today’s AR-15. Even Chicagoans were shaken as never before by this brazen ambush. The murders were so grizzly, the crime commanded a designation distinct from other eruptions of gang violence. It soon got one - the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Al Capone received a title as well - Public Enemy No. 1. The Feds then became intent on not just putting him out of business, but putting him away. They did. Two years later he was convicted for tax evasion, a federal crime at the time and a novel prosecutorial strategy.
Even with Capone locked away in a US penitentiary, the Thompson Submachine Gun, the Tommy Gun, remained gang members’ easily obtained weapon of choice. With it, hoods continued instilling fear on Chicago’s streets. The Tommy didn’t commit the murders, it just turned them into wholesale crimes. The city’s reputation was becoming toxic for new business investment. The tipping point for cleaning it up gradually outweighed the mountain of corruption built by pols aiding crime bosses and the bosses aiding the pols. In 1932, FDR was elected president and initiated a war on crime which included the National Firearms Act of 1934, the first federal gun law. The law was written to keep Tommy out of private hands. Without a private market, the weapon was adopted solely by the military where it really belonged. It was soon redirected appropriately to serve in combat operations on the battlefields of WWII.This brings us to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Texas. Could forces aligning after this 2018 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre provide the spark igniting a conflagration needed to incinerate the devils within our gun culture? Maybe.
|Boston Common - March, 2018|
By following the money and history, we learn it was a private sector mobilized to impact the economic benefits of selling guns coupled with fire power at the ballot box which yielded passage of the National Firearms Act. That critical mass was necessary to stop a seemingly incurable epidemic of gun violence. Today, we have a triad of forces assembling to eradicate this national scourge. Consider - with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart, and Kroger taking the lead, retailers are joining ranks to no longer sell automatic weapons and begin placing restrictions on their gun sales. After Atlanta based Delta ended travel discounts for National Rifle Association members and the Georgia legislature hit back ending some tax exemptions for the airline, passing new gun laws has been catapulted into the 2018 mid-term campaign. Voters feeling enough is enough are demanding their reps support sensible 21st century interpretations of the Second Amendment. And to round out the three pronged effort there is a secret weapon emerging from the Parkland tragedy, a student led movement which understands how to use the Force - the immense power of social media - to fight for its cause. This coalition of activism could be a new beginning as the Dark Side of the NRA’s Axis of Power finally meets its match.
May the Force be with us.
|March for Our Lives - Boston|
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