Twenty-six crosses stand in a field on the edge of town to honor the 26 victims killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 6, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Twenty-six crosses stand in a field on the edge of town to honor the 26 victims killed at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on Nov. 6, 2017 in Sutherland Springs, Texas. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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I held my hand over my mouth as I read about last Sunday’s mass shooting in Texas that claimed the lives of 26 people, shaking my head at yet another example of how guns control this country. I wondered what would happen if you asked any random person in America, ‘How have guns controlled your life?’ I bet they’d all have a personal story to tell.

This week, I put my theory to the test. Over the course of five days, I posed that exact question — ‘How have guns controlled your life?’ — to a high school counselor, two science journalists, three employees of a tech startup, and a dozen young folks at a youth center in East Oakland.

Initially, I’d set out to talk to every single person I interacted with for the entire week. But bringing up the topic of guns to someone you’re casually conversing with — a teller at a bank, or a post office clerk — only causes alarm and suspicion. It isn’t what you do. Not in America. Not now.

All I wanted to know is just how many people in this country are living a life that’s controlled by guns. How many folks have been physically wounded, or are dealing with the loss of loved ones, or live everyday with the fear of what might happen?

How many are survivors of this everyday war we fight in America?

Antionette Johnson holds a photo of her son Terrell Reams, 23, who was shot and killed in Oakland in 2013.
Antionette Johnson holds a photo of her son Terrell Reams, 23, who was shot and killed in Oakland in 2013. (Rod Lamkey/Getty Images)

The young people told me that guns control their lives daily. Two of them had stories of losing siblings to gun violence. One mentioned the perception of power that comes with owning a gun, and observed that it isn’t just the victim who is controlled by guns, but also the shooter. Another said that there are places they can’t go because of the potential for gun violence; fear of guns, they explained, is almost as controlling as guns themselves.

At the tech startup, one person told me that he’s more aware of people when they get onto a BART train; while he’s mindful to not profile others, he’s become overly sensitive to what could potentially happen. He also told me that after the 2012 shooting in a movie theater in Colorado that claimed the lives of 12 people, he can no longer sit anywhere in a theater that’s not near an exit.

One of the journalists told me how, earlier that same day, she’d had to console her young child who awoke bawling because of a nightmare that there was a shooter at her school.

I asked the high school counselor how guns have controlled her life, figuring I’d get an answer about her students, who are commonly referred to as “at-risk youth.” But her answer went beyond her daily work — she told me that a close family member was shot and killed in a temple in the Bay Area over a decade ago.

That’s a lot of pain and hurt caused by guns, and it’s not even complete. Out of the nearly 20 people I spoke with, every single one had a story of how guns had controlled their lives, in one way or another.

People scramble for shelter at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas after a gunman opened fire, leaving 59 people dead and more than 500 injured, on Oct. 1, 2017.
People scramble for shelter at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas after a gunman opened fire, leaving 59 people dead and more than 500 injured, on Oct. 1, 2017. (David Becker/Getty Images)

Today, Veterans Day, America celebrates its members of the armed forces who’ve been involved in military combat. It’s a day to read about those who lost their lives in America’s deadliest war, the Civil War. A day to understand what it was like for those who fought in the bloodiest war the world has ever seen, World War II. A day to think about those involved in America’s longest war, the war in Afghanistan.

And while this is a much-deserved national holiday for those uniformed service women and men, I wonder when we might have a day to recognize the civilian soldiers who have been killed, are wounded, or are living with PTSD from everyday gun combat in America. Those who face warfare but don’t don uniforms with the flag on the shoulder; the educators, writers, entrepreneurs, and young people who lead everyday lives controlled by guns.

In a country where an average of 93 shooting deaths happen every day, imagine if we had just one day when we could strive for no shootings in America, anywhere.

Imagine one day when we could openly talk about gun violence, so that people like the ones I talked to this week could see that they’re not alone.

Imagine a federal holiday to honor those who’ve lost their lives while attending church in Texas or South Carolina, while dancing in Miami, while singing along at a concert in Las Vegas, or walking to class in Colorado or Connecticut.

And on that same day, we’d honor the young brothers and sisters we’ve lost in East Oakland as well.

Just one day to collectively pay our respects to those killed by guns, and recognize that we are all veterans of this same combat. One day to help change our collective mentality. And then, the next day, we could get to work creating legislation so that we don’t have to continue living in a gun-controlled society.

It’s hard to imagine that. Especially in America, especially now.

Pendarvis Harshaw is the author of ‘OG Told Me,’ a memoir about Oakland. Find him on Twitter here.

Gun Controlled 10 November,2017KQED Arts

  • PersonOnDuty ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Let’s face it, the USA does NOT have a gun problem. The USA has a PEOPLE problem.
    The total number of firearm homicides last year: 11K.
    Theres about five times more deaths from the flu and pneumonia, but I don’t hear that being talked about!

    Until liberals can understand that it’s not a “gun” or “gun access” problem, nobody will be willing to listen to their “solutions”. They want to ban semi-auto rifles (as well as handguns). Rifles are used so rarely in homicides (albeit a large portion of “mass shootings”), that they’re still ignoring the root causes of violence.

    Remember, there’s only two ways to stop an armed attacker: reason and force. There’s nothing else, and if you think there is, reply and I will explain it in detail.

    As a victim, you can choose to beg for your life, I’ll choose to defend myself/family with a firearm.
    It’s that simple.

    • Troy Scott

      If YOU can sit in your front yard with a loaded shotgun in your lap, wave at the local law enforcement driving by, you live in a place with a very low murder rate. If you do this and the SWAT team assembles around the coroner you live in a place with a high murder rate. These cities you mention. They need grandmas ready to put buckshot into these gangbanger, drive by, want to be big shot’s.

      • PersonOnDuty ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Love it!

  • Divemedic

    That 93 a day number is a bit disingenuous. 2/3 of them are suicides. South Korea has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, yet has the highest suicide rate. Guns have NOTHING to do with suicide.

    Of the remaining 11,000 or so homicides in the USA, ten US cities account for half. In fact, the US is in the middle of the pack when it comes to homicide rate, with most of the nation having homicide rates that approximate Canada.

    • Troy Scott

      Don’t use another country as an example of the suicide rate! Hawaii, by far, has the lowest rate of gun ownership but has a suicide rate well above the national average.