When I was fourteen years old, there was a shooting two houses away from our home on Long Island, New York. It was early July and when the shots were fired, most of us assumed it was fireworks. But then I heard the voice of a teenage friend screaming “I’ll kill him! I’ll kill him.” I went running down the street toward that voice and was stopped by adults. I could see past them to my friend who was being restrained by others as he continued to scream. He was screaming at his father, who had just shot his mother to death in their backyard. His father, a detective, dropped the gun after he shot her and stood there waiting for the police to come.
A few days later my friend came to my house and said he and his little brother were going to live with his grandparents in another state. I never heard from him again. In my teenage way I prayed for him and wondered what his life was like after this unspeakable tragedy.
The documentary Trigger: The Ripple Effect of Gun Violence takes an unflinching look at what life is like after a death cause by gun violence. Sponsored by Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, Presbyterian Mission Agency and Act Alliance – a coalition of 140 churches working in 140 nations for change in the lives of the poor – the program was produced just before the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and includes interviews with family members of those killed in shootings at a variety of locations throughout the United States as well as survivors of violence at Virginia Tech. The interviews are conducted where the people live as they go about the challenge of living with deep grief.
Here are a few of the quotes that stayed with me long after I viewed the program:
• “I can’t get over the fact that the last thing my little daughter saw in her life was an AK47 pointed at her face.”
• “Gun violence rips through anything that makes sense in our lives.”
• “Everything happened so fast and yet everything is changed for a slow forever.”
• “What gets destroyed is goodness and love and hope.”
• “We didn’t have a massacre at Virginia Tech because a disturbed person wanted to hurt someone. We had a massacre at Virginia Tech because a disturbed person who wanted to hurt someone had access to guns.”
The documentary moves from these heart-wrenching stories of on-going life after life has been taken with a presentation of observations and facts about what is called a “public health crisis.” Here’s an observation by a surgeon in a Trauma Unit in Washington D.C.: “The age of the victims seem to get younger and younger. And the age of the shooters seem to be younger and younger as well.”
And facts: Less than one per cent of gun shops sell the guns traced to sixty per cent of the gun crimes. And 40% of gun sales go through loopholes in regulations. A commentator said: “The word loophole is not adequate when it is large enough to permit 40% of gun sales to go through it.”
The program ends with a list of other multiple death gun violence episodes scrolling across the screen. It left me feeling exhausted by the overwhelming numbers of those killed.
That is why it is good to go back to the real stories of real people and renew our motivation to work for a just and peaceful world. And that is why it would be good to view this program in a community, share reflections and inspire one another to act in hope. And I’ll keep praying for my friend and his little brother who lost their mother to gun violence so very long ago.
To obtain a copy of this DVD: www.triggerdoc.com
The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher
Bishop of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts