On September 18, 1977, I learned what gun violence was. I had just turned 9 years old.
Uncle Don was my buddy—that fun uncle who played with the nieces and nephews. He showed me 52-Card Pickup, and I fell for it every time. He taught me checkers and actually listened when I talked. He took time upon entering a room to wrestle with the mass of children who treated his stocky frame as a jungle gym.
That fateful night was like any other. My grandmother listened to the police scanner with its static and tones and matter-of-fact voices telling ambulances and law enforcement and emergency workers where to go. On that night, the voice told them all to go to Short Street.
Grandma had grown accustomed to Uncle Don getting drunk and in trouble. Many times she would wake up in the morning and find him sleeping on the porch glider because his wife had kicked him out. Grandma kept his bedroom as he left it for just such occasions.
With every siren or police call, Grandma worried that her Donnie was in trouble. On that night, she knew he was playing cards at a house on Short Street.
Across town, I was at my other grandmother’s house with my parents and siblings. I don’t remember how Mom found out, but I remember whispering and being corralled in the living room. I didn’t hear the story that night, but for days and weeks and months and years afterward–for about 37 years after that, in fact, until Grandma died–I heard the story over and over and over. I could recite it, just like Grandma said it:
Donnie was shot six times with a .38, and then they ran over him with a car. They said they were trying to scare him. How is that just trying to scare him?
It was the same words again and again.
We eventually learned that Uncle Don and his wife were drinking at a party and he caught her fooling around with someone else. The couple got into a fight in the alley and the boyfriend intervened by shooting my uncle six times with a .38.
I find it difficult to tell the facts here without keeping the same rhythm… six times with a .38… six times with a .38. There’s a rhythm to it.
So, that’s how I learned about gun violence–when my uncle was murdered 40 years ago–and I’ve lived with it every day of the following four decades.
Four months after he was killed, we lost my dear aunt, because she grieved herself into the grave. Between the brother and sister, they left the lives of six children in utter destruction.
As were were growing up, we often had guns in our house. We were even raised shooting guns. But we never, ever, ever touched a gun without my dad’s supervision. We didn’t touch them, because they weren’t ours. We respected guns–and Dad’s belt.
While guns didn’t scare me in a general sense, one particular gun set me on edge. I even held it a few times, but it frightened me. I held it in my hand and turned it first one direction, and then another. Dad’s .38.
Six times with a .38.
What goes through a person’s mind when they point a gun at another person and pull the trigger? Again? Again? Again? Again? Again?
Do they value life? Do they realize the consequences of their actions? Do they care?
This was one handgun 40 years ago. With each pull of the trigger, destruction reverberated throughout my family and continued to do so my whole life. Even to this day, I see the damage that those six bullets continue to cause.
Fast forward 40 years. Now people use automatic and semi-automatic weapons. They don’t take out one person, they take out dozens. They don’t shoot six bullets, they shoot hundreds.
We never felt like we got justice in my uncle’s death. His murderer entered into a plea bargain and served about a year in a boys’ home kitchen. He didn’t go to prison. How was that justice for the destruction he caused?
Mass murderers now rarely see the inside of a courtroom. They either die at their own hand or a police officer’s. And it keeps happening over and over again. Everyone says something must be done, but no one is willing to do anything to stop it.
I’m not against guns. I always enjoyed firing a gun growing up, and I believe in ALL the amendments in the Constitution, not just one.
I am against politicians who will negate a person’s freedom of religion, speech and assembly–all rights protected in the FIRST Amendment–but will turn a blind eye to abuse of the Second Amendment simply because gun lobbyists pay them an enormous amount of money.
I don’t ever want another family to face destruction due to gun violence.