A few days before the Boston shooting, I stumbled across a HuffPo report about a demonstration in DC last week. According to the piece, 3,300 people have been killed by guns in America since the Newtown shooting. I realized that that’s more than died in the 9/11 attacks, so in the days since then I’ve been keeping my eyes on Slate’s gun-death tally database, because it seemed somehow if so many people were dying, Sometimes I’m too chicken to check out the latest stories, or just too busy. But when I can I do feel compelled to read these stories, particularly the ones involving children. It seems like if they’re dead, the least I can do is remember them.
I was thinking about those stories when I heard the news about Boston. Because, you know, I’ve been thinking about terrorism vs. gun deaths like suicides, murders, accidents. The different ways we react to the different news. And don’t get me wrong – the news out of Boston is horrifying. We should be upset over it, and I really don’t want to downgrade the impacts on the families, or the way terrorism impacts us all because it’s designed to make us scared, take away the places where we feel safe. And really, there’s something off about comparing body-counts between tragedies. There’s a quality, a wrongness, that gets lost that way.
At the same time, there were “only” three deaths in those Boston explosions, at least so far. Those deaths are a world of pain for the people touched by it, and the fact that it could have been any of us when we go to a marathon like those folks is chilling. But because my mind was primed to compare terrorism to gun deaths, and because I was checking the gun-death database anyway, I decided to check out what else had happened that day.
These are stories that I want to share. It’s a bit grizzly, but I hope you won’t mind if I go ahead and share them.
Rosetta M. Samuel, an off-duty Brooklyn police officer, shot her boyfriend and their one-year-old son, then committed suicide. All died. (NY Times)
A Dallas man, name unreported, shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend. (IB Times)
In Garner, NC (south of Raleigh), the police received a domestic violence 911 call from LaTasha Renee. Police found her shot in her home, and she died in the hospital. (WRAL)
A Brooklyn man, name unknown, was shot several times on the street. (Twitter)
A man returned home in the middle of the day, in Enumclaw, WI, to find he was being robbed. He shot one of the robbers fatally and the other escaped. (Komonews)
And in Reno, NV, an unnamed man was shot in a downtown hotel. Circumstances unknown. (RGJ.com)
In some of these situations, we might write off the dead person as not a true victim. Ms. Samuel shot herself and was a murderer. People shot in hotel rooms are sometimes victims of robberies but often are up to something shady, too. If you’re shot multiple times on the street, you may be up to something. And a man is king in his own castle; if you find someone robbing you, we naturally think you have a right to defend yourself. It bothers me that we have to make those kinds of distinctions. The fact that I can sit here without knowing more details and parse people into deaths we should be concerned about and deaths we shouldn’t be, based only on these basic facts, makes me feel a little sick to my stomach. But even supposing we should sort out the “good” deaths from the “bad” ones, that’s four people, one of them pregnant and one of them a small child who were shot on April 15. And those are only the deaths that have been reported as of 3:07 AM on Wednesday April 17. (I’ll post this in the morning.)
It’s not been a very good month for kids. (I checked back to April 1 when I found the database.) Yesterday that one-year-old was shot by his mum in that murder-suicide. Here are a few others:
Shayla May Shonneker, a fourth-grader in Oregon City, was accidentally shot by her mum’s live-in boyfriend. (Oregon Times)
An unnamed thirteen-year-old was accidentally shot in a home in Jacksonville, FL. Several children were home alone and were playing with a gun that discharged. (News4Jak)
Andy Chavez (seventeen) and Justin Hansen (thirteen) were shot by a man after getting into an argument, on the streets of Pomona, CA. (KTLA)
Joseph Gomez (seventeen) was shot in a McDonalds parking lot in York Co., NY. (Fox News)
Eric Godner killed Jonathan Johnson (both seventeen) as the latter was headed for his school bus. (The Tennessean)
B.J. Scott, a tenth grader, was shot when a “playground fight that erupted into a gun battle”; police describe him as a spectator to the fight. (Philly.com)
An unnamed seventeen-year-old was shot in a condo parking lot, and later died at the hospital. (Alabama.com)
Three-year-old Qui’ontrez Moss “found a gun and shot himself.” in Sumter, SC (WLTX)
An unnamed thirteen-year-old from Placerville, CA was found shot in his home, in what police describe as either an accident or a suicide. (News10)
Michelle Miller was a “17-year-old honor student [who] was set to begin basic training this summer”, from the MD suburbs of DC. She was shot by an Army staff sergeant recruiting her, who her friends and family suspect she was involved with romantically. (Washington Post)
Six-year-old Brandon Holt was shot in the head while playing “pretend shooting” with his friends. (NJ.com)
Alexander Wilson of Phoenix, AZ was driving a stolen car and gunned for a police officer trying to do a traffic stop. The police officer shot him, and the teen drove off and crashed into a nearby house, dying from the gunshot. (AZFamil.y.com)
Michael Orozco, a fourteen-year-old gang member, was shot in a Chicago drive-by. (HuffPo)
Joshua David Petersen of American Fork, UT, shot his five-month-old son in a planned murder-suicide. (Petersen was not able to kill himself, but the baby died.) (Deseret News)
A Fort Wayne, IN, boy (unnamed; seventeen) was chased down an alley and shot by several gang members. It’s not clear whether he was in a gang or not. (WSBT)
All in all, forty-two kids and 177 teens have died since December 14, not counting the twenty who died at Newtown.
Again, some of these stories are just flat-out tragic. I cried for five minutes straight when I read about Brandon and Qui’ontrez. I think it was the age and the fact that they’re just so damned pointless. At least with the five-month old, there’s a sense of what could you have done – mental illness is hard to root out, especially in rural areas of Middle America where people aren’t always receptive to psychiatry. And some of the cases involve crime and gang affiliations, which is at least understandable. If you steal a car and aim it at a police officer, I wouldn’t ask the police to just stand by there. What are you going to do? But even there, some of those kids were really kids. Justin Hansen was only thirteen; even if he was really involved, are we really prepared to say a thirteen-year-old is so responsible for his life, we don’t need to ask any further questions about why he was allowed to die? Or for that matter, is seventeen?
I don’t want to draw a one-to-one connection because as I said, it’s not as simple as saying twice as many deaths is twice as bad. And even aside from the body count there are aspects of the Boston bombing that are unique to it – the intent to terrorize, the loss of a safe space for the rest of us. I do think there’s something of a terrorism-like effect for certain kinds of gun violence, too In an inner city, in bad neighborhoods (I live in a fairly decent one), gun violence is something of a staple. You live with the reality that someone you love might be killed that way. It impacts the choices you make to go or not go to certain events. This is particularly true of gang violence or violence due to crime.
Those accidental shootings of all those young kids has less of an effect, though the weight of those deaths still feels awfully heavy as a while, especially when you think that the tragedy might not be so often if there were less guns lying around. Which is not necessarily the same as saying less guns are owned by people; but it does require an acknowledgment that gun ownership carries definite responsibilities and dangers that go beyond our current discussion of rights. I know most gun owners are very safe, but our rhetoric here doesn’t help. (As a side note, I got into a discussion on a piece at TIME.com this week, on whether parents should ask other parents if there were guns in the house before letting their kid come over and play. Most of the commenters thought this was intrusive and insulting, so out of bounds. I disagreed.)
I don’t have any real answers for what to do about gun violence, if anything. I don’t think rounding up all the guns or even restricting sales is necessarily the answer, if only because it seems to provoke such fear in the people who hold the guns, and that’s not a good frame of mind. But simply because I don’t know the answer, that doesn’t nean we shoudln’t be asking the question, in fact it’s proof we *need* to be. Just once, I’d like us to give one of these “tragedies” (or their collective weight, if that’s easier) the kind of full-court press we give the Boston bombing. Why did this happen? Who was responsible? How did he carry it out, and how can we make sure it will never, ever happen again? Even the security theater we get at airports would be better than this stultifying silence we get on what really causes these gun deaths.
Mainly, I’m just tired of the silence here. Or maybe it’s the noise of people shouting at each other rather than really hearing what the other has to say. I want to know what happened, and I want to know why it’s almost sure to happen again.