In this holiday season, when people should be focusing on the beauty and greatness of life, many Americans, including myself, have sadness in their hearts. Friday, December 14, 2012 will forever be remembered as the day gun violence took the lives of 27 Americans, including 20 innocent children in Newtown, Connecticut, and shook the very core of many more. Bloodshed by means of firearms has reached epidemic proportions. A study in Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in America is nearly 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined. In fact, when taking the death rate by homicide of the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80% occur right here in the United States. I could easily cite more statistical evidence about how pressing this issue is, but I prefer to share my story and make a public plea. Hundreds of questions can be asked, but the most basic of these seem to be: How does gun violence keep happening and how many people’s lives does gun violence have to personally touch until something is done?
My life has been touched by gun violence. Jason Baker, my friend and a young Indianapolis Sheriff’s Deputy, died selflessly on September 17, 2001 by gunfire from four thugs with an AK-47; he died protecting the weak and vulnerable. Nothing in modern medicine exists to fix a gunshot to the head. Jason was just 24. Although he was a law enforcement officer and knew the dangers of the profession, his death isn’t any less tragic than the most recent mass murder victims. Jason loved his job, family, and the little things, such as a bike ride on a nearby trail. Writing about such a great person causes pain, but his story must be told and he must serve as a call to end these nonsensical acts. In this particular case, as well as over 90% of cases related to gun violence, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the offender turns out to be a male.
Reading newspaper articles, watching stories on the local news, or listening to a story by a friend at the local tavern about gun violence shows that it has engrained itself into our daily routine. Yes, there are systematic changes that need to take place, but from a societal perspective, males in particular need to be given more opportunities to express themselves using their strength in constructive ways.
As the father of a one and a half year old son, I worry about the direction society is taking in regards to our males and manliness. Therefore, I am making a personal plea, which I hope my fellow Wisconsinites and Americans will join in, that we provide ways that males, especially young males, can channel violent thoughts and aggressive actions by guiding them better. We could do more to teach them that strength is good—when it protects the weak and innocent, when it’s used to help the helpless, when it’s directed to the good of others. Let boys be boys; let them roughhouse, but teach them to use their strength on behalf of the vulnerable. If we show concern for their manly strength and we show care, they will, too.
That’s what Jason Baker taught.
With 2013, just around the corner, let’s not settle for an annual average of 30,000 deaths related to gun violence in America. I love America, and although it currently has this blemish, it can and will be corrected. I want my son to grow up in an America that is safe. I want my son to cry tears of happiness when he has his first child and not tears of sadness because he had to bury a friend because of gun violence.
As Desmond Tutu said, “The impulse to care, the instinct for goodness, is a shining thread woven into the fabric of our own goodness.” Let’s be sure our boys learn that.
Political Science Teacher at Luxemburg-Casco High School