The Toll of Gun Violence

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It’s something I understand

On the morning of August 31st, 2004 I woke up as was my usual habit. Enough time to take a shower and then get to school; this was my first semester in college after having delayed it for a few years to do my own thing. The delay ended up working well for me even if I came out of the gate three years later than everyone else — I would not have met my wife, for example, and may not have my current job — but that’s neither here nor there to the story. People were awake in the house and I was going to let them know I’d be in the shower, and that’s when I knew something was wrong: My dad was home from work and my mother was on the couch crying.

“Travis got killed last night,” my dad explained. Travis is my cousin, three years my senior, and we had spent a lot of time together especially when we were younger. My mother and her sister were very close. There is a fair amount of who I am that comes from different interactions with Travis. My reaction was one of shock and confusion. I can still see every detail about everything that happened that morning.

“He was shot,” my mother added.

That made more sense than a 24-year old man dying out of the blue. But why?

Travis had, at times, trouble with drugs. Harder stuff than weed. I don’t know all the details — we had grown apart by this point. He had problems but never to the point of being a junkie on the street, or anything. He was still a great guy when I was around him and he was an extremely caring person. But someone had up and murdered him.

He had been found, in his car, shot in the legs — the femoral artery in both legs was pierced if I recall correctly. He did not live long after being shot. He was perhaps five hundred yards from my dad’s job, and I believe my dad passed the ambulance on the way home with no idea who it was they were trying in vain to save. It seems like we discussed that once, but a lot around those days is a blur. I do not remember, and I’ve never wanted to ask.

The loss of anyone is always painful, and if it’s a shock it can be worse. The loss of a younger person, though, tends to rattle us in a way it might not for an older adult. Losing Travis, even though we weren’t as close as when we were kids, rattled me. It struck even more of a chord being almost three years to the day that my father was shot while at work.

That’s right: I’ve known two people shot within a few hundred yards of each other. That day, too, stands out. We got the call from my uncle, a police officer here at the time. We got to the hospital. They never caught the guy. He walked in when nobody else was there yet with some story about buying something, robbed my dad — and then shot him in the back. It was about as lucky a shot for my dad as it could have been:

One inch one way, it hits his spine. One inch another, his bladder. About an inch in a different way, his femoral artery. If you’re going to get shot in the back that is apparently the spot. The bullet sailed through him, doing damage but not nearly what it could have and then struck the wall where it fragmented. He then rounded the corner, picked up a five gallon water jug, and hurled it at the crook. For whatever reason that bit of resistance made him leave — maybe he thought someone else threw it.

My dad lived. My cousin didn’t. They didn’t catch one, but they did catch the other. Though, the rumor is that the former met his end a few years ago — with the lifestyle he chose I wouldn’t be surprised. They were not the same guy, though what a coincidence that would have been…

At trial, this criminal (who had outstanding warrants and wasn’t legally allowed to own a gun) claimed that my cousin called him the n-word at first. I wasn’t at the trial, so my recollection is also of a second hand source. Somehow it came out that he had robbed my cousin and then shot him. This is a theme now: they already have the money and then they kill the person. Either way, he was sentenced to a measly twenty years, and can get out after sixteen. Or fifteen, I forgot. It has been ten.

When I speak about guns I am speaking from a position of being face to face with it. While I’ve mentioned having someone who wants to kill me, even that is a completely different reality from being shot. But I do see what gun violence can do and I’ve seen what it does to families and the people that survive up close and personal. For over eleven years I’ve lived with the direct loss of someone — who knows where he could be today? For fourteen, I’ve dealt with the stress the other incident caused.

As an aside, my dad’s first day back at work was a particularly famous Tuesday in September.

The guns did not create those criminals. The guns did not make any decisions that day. If anything I wish my cousin had been armed himself, having been inside his car. He could have at least had a chance. We know that the one guy wasn’t allowed to own a firearm, but the other may not have been either.

The man who threatened me is also barred from owning guns.

Here is the situation gun control would cause: I would be unarmed because I am a law abiding citizen, and the crazy drunkard that wants to kill me would not, because he is already breaking the law to have guns. The bastard that murdered my cousin was barred from owning a gun and had one anyway. Unless there is some way to get every single one of the guns out of the country there is no way any gun control will ever make any bit of difference — other than taking guns from the law-abiding.

We’re told we can’t even get rid of eleven-million people. People that need food and air and an income or someone supporting them. If we can’t get rid of people we can see how would we ever confiscate three hundred million guns that can be hidden in a purse, or a trunk, or a toolbox buried in the woods?

Oh, we want to just make it harder to get new guns? Who does that actually stop? Right: law-abiding citizens.

Gun violence is a serious problem when it hits close to home. But in so many of the cases the person committing the gun violence is already a criminal. He’s already served time. He’s probably barred from associating with other criminals, barred from owning a gun, and so on and so forth. So maybe we need to look at the people doing the violence. Maybe we need to punish violent crime more stringently and stop worrying so much about crimes without victims.

Because, I have to tell you: It really sucks to lose someone because a criminal has no regard for human life.