I’m back in the states to see medical services about the evolving situation with my ribs. I wrote “Poison of Illusions” which lays out the back story of a draining chest wound, a less than ideal reminder of gun violence from over thirty years ago. Friday past, I had the surgery. It’s the sixth surgery I have had related to my physical woundings. This time I am left with an oblong 50mm hole in my right side. In through the skin, fascia, and muscle tissue, the surgeons cut. Skillful hands & guiding fingers removed old bone fragments from between ribs five and six.
My body, this miraculous miracle of existence, recently discovered these fragments and it decided they needed to go. Jumping into action, it blessed me with this deep festering infection, let’s get rid of them now!
Even though these physical effects of gun violence are still rippling through my life some thirty-three years later, I am used to them. For years now one of my exit wounds has spit sutures, pieces of metal, and bone fragments. Compared to what some other gun violence survivors have to contend with on a daily basis in order to just live, I am grateful.
Interestingly it is a full-circle kind of deal. The same woman, a brave & loving motherly example. The one who nursed me back to health all that time ago is performing her loving work yet again. I am grateful to have her, she is one person I am sure of that would give everything.
Speaking from experience there are countless effects that follow gun violence. Ripple effect wise, my sister got the worst of it I think. The untouched victim – she was the only one in the family who was able to escape. She wasn’t shot, murdered, sexually assaulted, physically assaulted, or tortured. Luckily she got out of harm’s way before it was too late, or did she?
She, like many other victims of gun violence, received the full emotional attack of senseless carnage without any of the physical indications. No bullet holes or surgery scars, the daily in your face reminders. Her woundings lie deep, covered up by habits of her own making within this fragile environment called reality.
I think the best way to relate is to tell a story of how I imagine something like that might feel.
Let’s say that one day you decide to go down to your local theater and see a scary movie playing you had heard about.
You get your ticket, your popcorn, soft-drink, candy bar – just the necessities – find your seat, and get ready for the show. Soon you are developed into the movie, the popcorn is half-finished and you’ve been contemplating whether or not to have the candy bar. You are interestingly transfixed on the screen, watching the powerful story plot unfold, a family member is troubled and unsteady. There is an uneasy, dangerous feeling lingering about.
The next scene that is forecast before you is twilight. You straighten up in your seat and get ready, something is happening. The right edge of the screen depicts a darkening forest. Tree branches casting their spindly dark appendages up into the night sky. Center screen, a dark stone pebble driveway, eager weeds springing forth begging for sunlight. Far left, a yellowed, weather-stained, lamp post sits at the driveway’s edge. There is an eerie glow cast against the dark driveway as the lamps’ stunted light fights against the approaching darkness.
Footsteps, running down the driveway, out of sight, approaching screen right.
Crunch, crunch, crunch, then a fall. Get up and run you mentally command the unseen actor. Crunch, crunch, crunch, the pace grows closer but slower. A flash, just a flash you see as a woman runs past the scene’s main viewpoint. A white sheer blouse, a bloodstain on her left shoulder just above her heart. The rich red blood draining down towards her waist, binding her clothes to her skin, she is hurt bad.
Wait, what! Your neural pathways quickly recognizing the haircut, your mind latching onto the familiarity of texture and smell. Frantically scanning mental memories of the same hair type, style, and cut. Her face passes into view as she turns back over her shoulder, will escape be possible? Just that glimpse of her face, bloodshot tears running down her cheeks as she turns. Wait, what, you know her? What is happening? Your heartbeat really races now, your mind brings into sharp focus the image it was searching for. Her meaning, the memories, the love, all lay before you now.
My wife, girlfriend, sister, mother, daughter, grandmother, aunt, or friend?
Before you can will a decision of what to do, crunch, crunch, crunch again. Someone is in pursuit. Your sweaty hands grasp each armrest. The footsteps are faster, a quickening pace, almost a run then they stop. A man slowly enters the frame, the dirty yellow light of the neglected lamp post reflects against the metal bloody blade of a large kitchen knife. Fresh, rich, pungent blood glistens on the blade, coloring his fingers as he clutches it firmly. Wait, what, could you know him!
My husband, boyfriend, brother, father, son, grandfather, uncle, or friend?
The soda crashes to the floor from between your legs. You are fighting your mind, it’s wrong, what you are seeing is not possible! You try and move, the phone, do I run, what to do? It can’t be. You impossibly try, for a split second, to command to the whole essence of what makes you, you, to just calm the hell down.
The very moment you will yourself up and out of that chair, invisible hands grab you and force you back down. Pushing your shoulders hard into the seat, so sharply and strongly that you feel the plastic backing push through the foam and dig into your shoulder blades. Physically, you are trying to force yourself out of this changing reality, one last deep gasp before your free will is pried away. Bound to the chair, eyes unable to close, pressure on your chest, frozen. A terrified shell of what was seconds before.
The scene pans left, the camera bringing into view the reason the man had stopped running, the female has collapsed. Lamplight casting shadows forward as he slowly approaches. Your vantage point following. A fist full of hair in his right hand, slowly he slips the blade of his knife down behind the collar bone, just inches above the bleeding shoulder wound. Down deep into her heart, the handle stopping when it meets skin. Her face turns towards yours and winces while life leaves her body. You scream it changes nothing. There is no denying it, a helpless victimhood is born. The emotional, moral, and psychological parts of you are now changed forever.
A problem worth solving –
The problem behind gun violence isn’t the recognizable bad guys portrayed on a video screen. The crooks, the villains, the crazed & mentally unstable, they are in the minority. The majority is where the problem lies, the unrecognizable bad guys. The – us, the regular everyday people, who in an instant step over the line and create chaos, death, and destruction. Completely driven by a consumed, unmanageable, emotional state. It’s within all of us, within each of us, is that person.
Here is where I feel the intersection of the unknown arrives. The all too common “he was such a nice neighbor”, “they were always a quiet, pleasant couple”, “I just can’t believe it”, “I guess I never really knew them”, “ I never saw him angry”, “I can’t imagine that happened in this neighborhood” – some faction of these statements broadcast on the evening news as a friend, neighbor, or family member is being interviewed. A criminally brutal attack committed in their world or possibly, by someone they might have known.
Think of yourself for a moment. Think of all the qualities that you believe make you, you. All the physical components, language, tone, posture, thoughts, beliefs, habits.
Every person you meet, have a relationship with, or make eye contact with as you pass by on the street, will create a version of you in their heads. You’re not the same person to your mom, your dad, your coworkers, neighbors, or friends. There are a thousand different versions of yourself out there, in people’s minds. A “you” exists in each version, and yet your “you”, yourself, isn’t really a “someone” at all.
In the midst of all these thousands of different versions of people you think you know, we are each dealing with a pandemic, an economic collapse, and a quicking mental health crisis. All of these broad-spectrum, life-shaping challenges have devastating ripple effects of their own.
There are several red flags flying if we only dare to look.
Since the start of the pandemic earlier this year we know there has been an additional 2.6 million gun sales over the same time frame period, of previous years. This has choked the (NICS) National Instant Criminal Background Check System and undoubtedly allowed for a higher rate of restricted individuals to purchase firearms. This (NICS) system is a federal system used by businesses that sell firearms. It allows the seller to make sure the buyer isn’t a convicted criminal and thereby being a “prohibited persons” someone who is unable to purchase or own firearms. Unfortunately, the (NICS) is a pretty weak system plagued with loopholes but scope wise, it has prevented more than 1.5 million gun purchase attempts by criminals.
I think we can rightly assume that the reason many own guns is for protection. According to polling data, 67% of gun owners list this as the major reason. Protection from whom? Who is the bad guy? What do we construct in our mind as the image of the “bad guy”.
Pointing back to the numbers, the number one cause of death by gun violence is suicide. Sixty-one percent (61%) of all gun-related deaths are because you pulled the trigger on yourself. You have become your own bad guy. You are unable to protect yourself from yourself. Out of the expanding number of 23,000 people who die each year by their own hand, seventy-four percent (74 %) are white men. Now with what seems like Armageddon on the horizon, the suicide numbers are expected to increase twenty-thirty percent (20%-30%).
Firearm and ammunition sales in the United States have a parallel upward curve, similar to what we see with the Novel Coronavirus – Covid 19. In February, the internet retailer ammo.com, one of the largest on-line ammunition dealers reported a 309% increase in revenue and a 222% jump in transactions.
More ripple effects –
What percentage of gun owners think of the consequences. I mean sure there is the family component of direct violence as a gun owner, that is a given, we just discussed a section of that epidemic.
But what about the person who hopefully never pulls the trigger? Do they have any idea of what they are doing? Or maybe a better question is how many gun owners will make a draw/shoot/no-shoot decision on the spot, in seconds. What if the “bad guy” is a loved one, a friend, or a neighbor.
As of 2019, there have been 18.66 million concealed weapon permits issued in the United States. This means that if I have this permit, I have access to carry a firearm on my person hidden so you can’t see it, it is my secret. I just might carry this firearm with me anyplace I choose, even in the places I am not supposed to. Metal detectors and body searches my only deterrent, there are few measures in place to keep me honest and law-abiding.
The pandemic rages on, everything gun-related is on it’s way up by at least thirty percent (30%). There is growing uncertainty about the direction of this country. Racial tensions and police injustice continue to build. Openly armed men and women are standing up and standing out. There is talk of civil war.
Beware the red flags.