Oak Creek massacre hits home


On a normal Monday morning commute, I drive by the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek along Howell Avenue on my way to work in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

But today was not a normal Monday morning.

Today is the day after a lone gunman walked into the Sikh Temple and shot and killed six people before a brave Oak Creek police officer returned fire at the assailant, who then killed imself.

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I grew up in Oak Creek. I’m a proud graduate of Oak Creek High School. I still live in Oak Creek.

I have watched the city grow from a population of about 18,000 to 35,000 today.

In the past year, no city in southeastern Wisconsin has had a more vibrant “buzz” than Oak Creek. The massive former Delphi factory site is a genuine opportunity to create a landmark redevelopment, to create a new downtown from scratch. The city’s lakefront is a jewel waiting to happen. The Drexel Avenue freeway interchange will open up the South 27th Street corridor, which includes the sprawling Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Inc. campus, to the world. Caterpillar Inc. moved its global mining division’s headquarters to Oak Creek.

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But all of that promise, all of that progress, was put on hold Sunday.

I cannot express how surreal Sunday was for the residents of Oak Creek. As we watched the story unfold on CNN, multiple police and news helicopters hovered over our houses. Sirens blared, ambulances rushed and traffic was diverted.

We watched television news as Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, Police Chief John Edwards and Fire Chief Tom Rosandich – lifelong friends of mine – tried to make sense of this horrible tragedy in a press conference.

Oak Creek is forever changed.

Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. They had assembled in peace, and they perished in hatred.

In the past, I’ve watched such tragedies from afar on television, as they took place in towns I have never seen to people I’ve never known.

Sunday’s massacre was different. It was in my back yard.

When the movie theater shooting happened in Aurora, Colo., last month, I wrote the following to my friends of Facebook: “We’ve all seen this play before, haven’t we? Concerned citizens will ask why it should be legal to buy weapons that can fire 50 to 60 rounds per minute. Gun rights supporters will say we can’t have any restrictions on weapons because it’s a slippery slope, and ‘If we outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.’ And in the end, nothing will get done, because the National Rifle Association (NRA) always buys off enough politicians to make sure nothing gets done. And this tragedy will fade from our memories until the next one happens. And then we’ll do this play all over again.”

Little did I know…

The Second Amendment was written at a time when one man could fire one musket ball at a time. My Second Amendment rights would not be deprived today by sensible restrictions on how many shots can be fired by automatic or semi-automatic weapons – anymore than they would be deprived if I am not allowed to walk around with a nuclear weapon.

Sunday’s tragedy indeed may have been unavoidable. But we need not make it easier for the carnage to escalate. And we should not settle for a society in which weapons are more easily attained than mental health care.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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