Many of us have been watching or listening to recaps of the Derek Chauvin murder trial in Minneapolis. At the same time we are hearing of murders throughout the country at bars, homes and even FedEx locations. Most of us wonder what has happened to our country. Where have our morals gone astray? Can we blame these horrific murders on the pandemic?

As I am a reader of history, I have tried to make some sense of where our country is heading with regard to mass murders and the reasoning for the same. Perhaps if we understand why they happen, we can start to prevent them.

Mass murders happen for one reason: the ability to shoot literally hundreds of rounds of ammunition in a very short time. Be it Las Vegas, Chicago, Austin, Sandy Hook, or any of the mass shootings over the years, automatic weapons with high capacity are almost always involved.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a gun owner and have a concealed carry license. I believe in protection. But I do not own an AR-15. I grew up as a hunter, but I never thought that I needed more than the three-shell capacity shotgun when I hunted. The bottom line is that these high-capacity weapons are for killing people, not deer, ducks or pheasants.

I understand that some people believe that we need these types of weapons for the safety of our country. Really? If we are invaded, it will be with nuclear weapons or EMPs. (That is electromagnetic pulse that destroys all electronics as well as a range of electrical items we use every day.) One man on the ground with a rifle, regardless of the capacity, will make no difference in the outcome. If you want to be really terrified, read “The Final Day” by William Forstchen about America post-EMP.

So is this mass murdering new? Unfortunately even though it is more common today, it is far from new. We had the massacre of the American Indians. We had the gunfights of the Old West. We had mass murder called the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. But there were two such murder cases that stand out for me today, because they both made the news almost exactly 50 years ago. It was March 29, 1971, to be exact.

Ironically both of these unrelated events ended up with convictions on the same day. Charles Manson and William Calley. For those who don’t remember, Charles Manson and his cult family murdered seven people in the Los Angeles area, including movie star Sharon Tate, at Roman Polanski’s Beverly Hills mansion. On the very same day, a military court found Lt. William Calley guilty of 22 premeditated murders of civilian Vietnamese in the village of My Lai.

Interestingly, the sentencing was quite different. Manson received the death penalty. Later, California courts struck down the death penalty and Manson got life without parole. Calley was also handed a life sentence, but the debate over his complicity raged on. Here was a young man, drafted to go to Vietnam, handed an automatic weapon, taught to kill, and given a squad of men to enter a village that had seen the death of several American GIs the day before. Not quite the same scenario, but the same result.

Calley’s sentence was reduced twice by the military, first to 20 years, then 10, and in 1977 with President Nixon’s intervention, it was reduced to “house arrest,” and he was paroled in 1974. Many believed that Calley had been singled out and made a scapegoat for the entire immorality of the Vietnam War.

Those two cases were totally different in so many ways but the perpetrators ended up with almost the same prison sentence. Sure, Nixon, like Trump, had a soft spot for soldiers accused of war crimes. But the outcome of the acts in both cases were the deaths of innocent people.

There is no doubt for those of us who remember them, these two cases helped define the chaos of the late 1960s and early ‘70s. Manson is now dead, and Calley is alive at 77. While none of the present mass murders would appear to have similar causes, the results in numerous dead innocent people appear quite the same. While Manson and Calley seem long ago names in a distant past, their trials have a similarity to the present. Their trials took place in a time of national division and upheaval, mostly because of the war in Vietnam. There is no less division and upheaval today with the pandemic, or governmental interference in our daily lives, be it masks, closed restaurants and bar, or just whether to get the vaccine or not.

Perhaps these contemporary issues have led to the same results as those that led to the murders, protests, and riots of the 1960s. Somehow we got past those terrible times of Vietnam. We can only hope that the control of the virus can lead us back to the path of civility, discussion rather than divisiveness, with us working together for a stronger and more united America. Perhaps a simple start is the elimination of these high-capacity firearms and decent background checks for any firearm purchase.

Dennis Marek can be contacted through the Daily Journal at editors@daily-journal.com or through his personal email at dmarek@ambltd.com.