The McKinley bust in Smiley Park

The statue of William McKinley on the grounds of the A.K. Smiley Public Library commemorates the visit of the 25th U.S. president on May 8, 1901. It was unveiled on the day of a visit by Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president.

To paraphrase this man you may have heard of named Jesus: Those who live by the gun shall die by the gun.

On May 8, 1901, President William McKinley became the first president to visit California, and honored Redlands as the first visit on his itinerary. For his tour that day, Redlands went all out with a number of stops for his open-top carriage including some now gone (the Casa Loma Hotel) — and some still here (the A.K. Smiley Public Library).

During his speech in front of the hotel, the president noted how impressed he was that Redlands had come so far since its founding just 12 short years before. Sadly, the rest of McKinley’s term as president would be short as well, because, only two days shy of four months later, on Sept. 6, he’d be cut down by the bullet of a deranged, self-proclaimed anarchist.

McKinley joined a long and still-growing list of other politicians whose careers were ended by guns, but when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in 2011 by another mentally ill man, some pontificating pundits proclaimed that this was “not what our country’s about.”

Really? Well, back in 1835 that’s precisely what it was about when a man who thought President Jackson was thwarting his recognition as the King of England, fired two flintlocks at the president. (It was the first presidential assassination attempt. Fortunately both pistols misfired.)

Any names on this “litany of lunacy” would also have to include John Hinkley, who attempted to assassinate President Reagan in 1981. Hinckley said he wanted to impress the actress Jodie Foster, and while what happened to a president on Sept. 6, 1901, was tragic, what happened to ordinary citizens on Sept. 6, 1949, would also prove a telling moment in this nation’s history.

That day, a quiet, polite and Bible-reading, 27-year-old World War II veteran named Howard Unruh — on a mission of revenge only he understood — put on his best suit and bow tie, picked up his Lugar and strolled out into his neighborhood to systematically shoot and kill 13 men, women and children in 12 minutes.

It was our first such mass murder, which today seem routine, with three high-profile ones in this past August alone — a lamentable list that amounted to almost 40 butchered Americans and scores more injured. Unrecognized: over 50 more died during August in 46 other mass shootings (defined as four or more dead or wounded) — but, in 1949, Unruh’s crime shocked the nation.

The reaction to these crimes has also become routine as well, with a period of “thoughts and prayers” — followed by yet more discussions of gun control, which results in only more discussions — ending in a return to “business as usual” (particularly for our nation’s gun manufacturers) until the next sensational shooting, which sets off the cycle again.

What hasn’t happened is the widespread recognition of this reality: the only way to eliminate gun violence in this country is to eliminate guns — as many other sane societies have basically decided — from England to Japan and now New Zealand — countries where the annual toll of gun deaths is in the low double or even single-digits, while ours is almost 40,000!

Impossible, you say? Well, I’ve lived my entire life without guns, so, it can be done.

Sadly, if current trends continue unresolved, expect more William McKinleys and Howard Unruhs in the future. And, as I’ve written many times before: prepare for more heartaches ahead.

Phill Courtney was a columnist for the Redlands Facts from 2012-2016. He’s also been a high school English teacher and was twice a Green Party candidate for Congress in Riverside County. He now lives in Redlands. Email: