Grief of the Gun

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I work at an urban public hospital and trauma center and, sadly, today was like too many others. I witnessed friends and family of a young man torn apart by a bottomless grief that was caused by a gun.

Today, it was a 15-year-old named Reajohn Jackson. Next time, the victim of gun violence will have a different name. Different friends and family members will be at our hospital sobbing and asking “Why?” to doctors and nurses, to kin, to no one in particular.

I have met the mothers and grandmothers and brothers and sisters and cousins of gun violence victims before today. And each, in their own ways, bear the unmistakable scars of shock and horror and anger and sadness.

I have met too many.

I suspect that, as long as I live, I will remember the human agony I witnessed today, as person after person rushed to our hospital only to be told of the passing of their friend, their classmate, their relative. One young man, in stunned disbelief, kept repeating, over and over as if to gain some measure of understanding, “What am I going to tell my sister? What am I going to tell my sister?”

I wish I knew, young man.

 

 

 

My Case Against the NRA

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This is not a critique of gun owners. I know a great many people who own firearms. Without exception, they know their weapons and how to care for and use them, and are quite serious about safety.

Nor is this a statement about gun control, nor a discussion about the limits of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution. I have previously written at length about both. You can read three previous posts about guns here, here and here.

This post is strictly about the National Rifle Association (NRA), its methods and indefensible positions on matters of public policy.

Here are some of the association’s most venal policy initiatives:

1. In 1994, the NRA opposed legislation to outlaw teflon-coated bullets, called “cop-killers,” because they are specifically designed to penetrate the body armor commonly worn by police.

2. Starting in about 2007, the NRA wrote and pushed for the adoption of legislation in several states that forced the owners of businesses and land to allow their employees and others to carry firearms onto their private property, even if they expressly denied their permission to do so.

3. In 2010, the NRA supported allowing people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list to buy firearms and asserted that preventing them from doing so would infringe on their 2nd Amendment rights.

4. In 2010, and over the strong objections of the nation’s law enforcement community, the NRA introduced federal legislation (through one of their more dependable toads, Rep. Todd Tihart of Kansas) that severely restricted the information the public was allowed to see about the sources of firearms (i.e., the identities of specific dealers) used in crimes.

5. The NRA has consistently opposed requiring background checks on the sale of every firearm in the US, using the back-door mechanism of so-called “private” gun sales (e.g., at gun shows).

6. The recent position of the NRA’s executive director, expressed mere days after another mass murder of innocents, namely putting armed guards in every American public school, is atrocious for its stupidity and cluelessness as well as its venality.

It’s completely clear that the NRA acts as the political agent of death merchants (i.e., arms manufacturers), not to secure and protect the rights of individual gun owners. How my smart, responsible, gun-owning friends can continue to support with their dues the NRA’s filthy work in consistent opposition to public safety is beyond me.

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Shovels and Guns

[Portions of this post were originally written in 2010.]

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before; the storyline is likely to be sadly familiar.

A man with big guns and an even bigger grudge walks into a place of business and starts shooting, first at particular people, later indiscriminately, finally to kill himself. The weapons he used were purposefully designed to throw as many bullets as possible in a short amount of time; in other words, they were built to kill lots of people really fast. That is, of course, why he’d purchased them.

In this particular case, the man used two TEC-9s, like the one in this photo (below).

The man in this particular case, Gian Luigi Ferri, was angry at a law firm located in the 101 California Street building in San Francisco. His first bullets were directed at some lawyers from the firm but after his blood lust was stirred, he went to other floors and shot pretty much randomly.

It was on one of these other floors that Ferri shot and killed my friend Mike Merrill. (His first name was actually Donald (see above), but everyone called him Mike.) I’d seen Mike for the final time, as it turned out, a very short while before, at my father’s funeral. After the service, Mike came over to me, fixed me with his bright, intense, crystal-blue eyes and told me what a great guy my dad had been.

Just a few months later, I was at his funeral saying roughly the same thing to his widow.

Following the 101 California Street shootings, and the national media attention it attracted, some gun laws tightened: centralized data bases were established to screen potential buyers, limits were placed on large-capacity magazines, certain models were made unavailable to civilians. None were serious steps, but legislation and regulation were, it seemed, moving in a constructive direction.

In the intervening 20 years, with the passage of time and fading of memory, many of the laws and regulatory schemes created in the wake of this particular tragedy have been loosened or have expired, especially in some states. To some, the problem isn’t the gun but the person using it; regulating gun ownership and use is shooting, as it were, at the wrong target.

I very strongly believe the opposite.

West Churchman, a great mentor of mine, believed that tools were not value-neutral.  You get a shovel to dig with; if you don’t want stuff dug up, you shouldn’t get one.  If the act of digging disturbs what you value – like, for example, a wilderness – then the shovel itself, by virtue of its design and its very reason for being, has an ethical consequence.

West would never have subscribed to the theory that “guns don’t kill people – people kill people.”  Like all other tools, guns were specifically created to perform a certain function, and its particular function has significant moral weight.  In the case of handguns, their purpose is to shoot people, in no way a value-neutral function.  In the case of automatic assault weapons (like Ferri’s MAC-9), their purpose is also to shoot people, but a lot more people and really fast.  Having a handgun or an assault rifle prepares you to kill – purposefully and with designed efficiency.  Not just using one, but also owning one has moral implications.

People have said, if someone wants to kill, a knife works too. True enough, in a single instance. But to kill many people with a knife takes almost unimaginable time, physical strength and proximity. Killing many people with an automatic assault rifle is a physically trivial exercise.

Take away the gun, take away the tool.