by Marcus Harrison Green
(This article is co-published with The Seattle Times.)
Excuse me, but…
Can you please help me find the National Rifle Association’s mythic, benevolent, gun-toting, lion-hearted sage? You know, also known as the “good guy with a gun”?
I’m having the darndest time identifying him in the recent spasm of shootings that have left a teenager with bullet fragments in his brain, a pregnant woman injured, and a community activist dead.
Would that be Andrew Lester, who is charged with shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl for mistakenly ringing his doorbell? Maybe not.
Well, what about Walgreens team leader Mitarius Boyd, who allegedly shot a seven-month-pregnant Travonsha Ferguson in his store’s parking lot on suspicion of shoplifting?
No? Okay, here’s one closer to home.
How about Patrick Cooney, a 35-year-old white man who, in what reeks of road rage, has been charged with fatally shooting community activist Elijah Lewis in front of Lewis’ 9-year-old nephew, who also was injured by gunfire?
Please come forth, oh paladin of virtue.
In all three cases, the gun owner opened fire with a legally purchased weapon.
Before I continue, for the sake of disclosure, I currently sit on the board of The Alliance for Gun Responsibility. But let me state for the record that I am not a gun abolitionist. I grew up the son of a military veteran in a home with multiple rifles. As a child, I was taught about the scourge of post-Civil War lynchings in this country that brutally slaughtered more than 4,700 Black Americans and their white allies. Guns were often the only genuine protection against murderous mobs.
I’m not indicting all gun owners, nor disregarding the nuances found in gun reform debates. But I am pleading for accountability and the same nuance when it comes to assessing who we permit to have firearms. A person armed with the decision-making power to eliminate someone’s brother, uncle, mother, cousin, niece, father, lover, or friend permanently off the face of this earth.
Guns are not tools of rationality. They are instruments of death.
And the people who wield them are not magically endowed with benevolence simply by virtue of legally possessing a gun. They are — like all of us — people. People who are prone to fits of anger, who are occasionally panic-stricken, subject to bias, and sometimes overcome by irrationality. Any effective gun laws must reflect that reality.
At their worst, guns are deadly expressions of our worst impulses.
Why else do we live in a nation with more guns than people, where children and teenagers are more likely to die by firearms than any other method, and where last year we saw twice the number of mass shootings as work days?
Why else were grade school children gunned down at a Christian school in Knoxville, Tennessee, last month, or four teenagers killed in cold blood while celebrating a friend’s Sweet 16 birthday party in Dadeville, Alabama, last weekend?
Why else would a Black teen, tasked with picking up siblings from a babysitter, face the threat of death for knocking on the wrong door?
Why else, in this city that is so liberal, so enlightened, and so tolerant, is Elijah Lewis dead following a traffic dispute?
He might still be alive if we had less permissive gun laws.
Imagine yourself in Lewis’ shoes. While driving, you accidentality make contact with someone else’s vehicle. You stop at a nearby red light and a dustup ensues. The dispute turns deadly when someone, pumped with adrenaline, reaches for their gun and pulls the trigger.
It’s merely one example of the type of highly volatile, everyday situation, charged by searing emotions, where the introduction of a gun can escalate things to a crisis level.
Washington is known as a “shall-issue” state, requiring a permit for anyone wishing to carry a concealed gun. However, it does not require someone to prove their suitability for possessing it.
Our state’s current concealed carry laws are associated with both higher violent crime and handgun homicide rates relative to states with stronger concealed carry laws.
New Jersey, for instance, requires any gun license applicant to assemble three other “reputable people” whom they’ve known for more than three years to present testimony on the person’s “good moral character and behavior.”
As much praise as our state lawmakers deserve this session for banning assault-style weapons (legal challenge likely) and regulating waiting periods and training requirements for anyone purchasing a firearm, we need even more action.
I can’t say with certainty that Elijah Lewis would be alive today if we had stronger requirements for concealed carry permits that thoroughly evaluated his alleged shooter’s past history and fitness to possess a firearm. I can say that he would’ve had a better chance of not dying prematurely.
He deserved that. And so do we.
The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.
The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.
Marcus Harrison Green
Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced first-hand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilling stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose of telling stories with nuance, complexity, and multidimensionality with the hope of advancing social change. This led him to become a writer and found the South Seattle Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
📸 Featured Image: Supported by a family member and friend, Elijah Lewis’ mother says a few words at a vigil held for her son at the corner of Broadway and Pine on Sunday, April 2, not far from where he was killed the day before. Hundreds of people showed up to show their love for Elijah, a young man who was deeply involved in the community. (Photo: Susan Fried)
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