Column: Causes of violence are complex
Published: Friday, January 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 17:01
I will never shake the feeling of a stranger’s pistol hovering just centimeters from my temple. As I lay there in the bushes in the early hours of a cold New Orleans morning, trying to stare into the face of the man looming over me, my only option was to submit. He walked away with my wallet and phone. I walked home.
People told me to go out and buy a gun. Who wouldn’t consider arming themselves after such a situation? For a while it seemed the only alternative was to stay on guard and get inside before sunset. If I wanted to feel safe, I needed to stuff a Beretta in my back pocket.
I’d be a responsible gun owner. My mother inherited hers from her father, Rudy Pino. He learned to shoot them when he lived in New Mexico with the rest of my gun-toting relatives. When I was young, Mom showed me how to clean and hold her guns and told me to always treat one as if it were loaded. My momma raised me right, just like her father raised her.
Rudy Pino loved his family. He saw himself as a protector. To him, this meant carrying a gun at nearly all times. In May of 1991 he came home late one night and was getting ready for bed. He didn’t wear his gun in the house. Just after midnight he saw smoke coming from across the street and heard a scream from the house beside it. He ran toward the origin of the scream and found a man stabbing an elderly woman. He managed to save the woman, but the man stabbed him multiple times before running to the front yard, where he stabbed the woman’s husband to death. My grandfather bled to death on site. Meanwhile, the last victim burned to death in the house that the killer had set on fire.
The police found the killer hiding in a shed. He charged at an officer with a kitchen knife. The officers shot him to death in my grandfather’s front yard.
The killer had fought in Vietnam on the American side. After the war he lived in a Thai refugee camp before immigrating to the United States. The war shattered him. He descended into delirium, paranoia and occasional hospitalization. By the time he moved to a Southeast Asian community in Porterville, Calif., he was heavily medicated, and those meds were running out. He told his family before the killing spree that there were shadowy people who wanted to kill him, and that soon he would die. My mother told me that his family had tried to get him into a hospital the night before the murders. The hospital had denied him. It isn’t surprising. At the time, Tulare County had the least mental health funding in California.
Perhaps if Rudy had been carrying his gun, he might not have been killed. At the same time, his killer was a trained fighter, and if that man had an assault rifle instead of a knife, his name might be as infamous as Adam Lanza, and Porterville might have been another Newtown. There is a possibility that if I had a gun when I was robbed, I would still have my wallet. But when I play that scene out in my mind, the mugger walks away with two guns, and I lie on the floor with a bullet in my brain.
This can leave a person feeling scared and helpless. This ceaseless stream of inconceivable violence has sent many scrambling for guns and ammo, while others are locking their doors and shouting for reform. Yes, we need gun regulations, assault rifle bans and mandatory background checks. It should be at least as hard to purchase a gun as it is to become a licensed driver.
But we cannot talk about guns or gun violence without talking about the conditions that make a person feel like the only solution is carnal bloodshed. We need to address the lack of education and the chronic poverty that my mugger grew up in. We need to deal with the lack of adequate mental health services that could have stopped my grandfather’s killer. Focusing on these issues, while likely not solving the problem, will certainly help us understand why these tragedies occur and will help to prevent them in the future.
Stewart Sinclair is an English writing junior and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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