A homeless gentleman was shot to death near Holly the Witch’s house, in Columbus.
It wasn’t one of the people Holly knows, but that’s the first place my mind went when I heard.
As far as I can tell from the reporting, Kevin Smith had taken shelter in a detached garage. Entering someone’s garage without permission is trespassing. Trespassing, in Ohio, is a misdemeanor. You could go to jail for 30 days and pay a $250 fine if you’re caught. It’s not a crime punishable by death, but Mr. Smith was killed for trespassing. Police first received a 911 call that someone had seen a trespasser. Before they even got there, they received another call that the homeowner had shot the trespasser. Their job went from shooing away a trespasser to investigating a homicide, and it’s still being investigated.
Remember last fall, when there was a homeless lady living in my undriveable car? People told me how heartwarming that story was, even though I thought it was tragic. I promise you, whoever Mr. Smith was, he wasn’t any less worthy of life than the funny lady I met on that adventure. He was another human being on the south side of Columbus, with nowhere to go on a chilly night.
He is now another victim of gun violence in Columbus, one of thousands.
Of course, this story drew my attention because it’s so close to the people I know and love. But also because it’s coming hot on the heels of a rash of gun violence by nervous Americans who probably thought they were acting in self-defense. By now we’ve all heard of the horrific case of Ralph Yarl, a teenager who mistook an address and politely knocked on the wrong door, looking for his siblings. He was shot in the head and arm by Andrew Lester, an elderly man who’d been sleeping with a loaded rifle next to his bed and assumed Ralph was up to no good. Mr. Lester has pleaded not guilty. That was Thursday. On Saturday, we learned that Kaylin Gillis was shot to death through the window of her car when she got lost on the way to a party and turned into a wrong driveway. And on Monday, we learned that two cheerleaders were shot, one of them critically, because they mistakenly got into the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot.
And as shocking as these events are, they are also not shocking.
because on average, 316 people are shot every day in America and 106 of them die. Gun violence is the number one killer of children in America. Eight in ten murders here involve a firearm. In a way, it’s only remarkable that we’re starting to notice.
This happens because we choose for it to happen. We have decided that it must. The National Rifle Association keeps pouring millions into the coffers of politicians, and those politicians get re-elected so we can’t have sensible gun laws. Americans are fed a diet of propaganda that we’re in constant danger and have to be ready to protect our homes, cars and driveways with deadly force, and we believe it even though property crime rates are steadily dropping. We’ve been told over and over again that having a loaded gun at hand makes us safer, and we believe it, even though it isn’t true. We keep buying the product. It keeps killing people.
Indeed, it’s being revealed now that Andrew Lester who shot Ralph Yarl was immersed in a steady diet of right-wing propaganda that made him expect he was in danger. I don’t know what the other shooters of the past week have been watching on television. I know that we live in a culture that markets paranoia because it’s profitable to do so– and you have internalized some of it and so have I, whether we watch Fox News or not, whether we think we’re liberal or conservative, whether we think we’re racist or not.
I know that a neighbor of my best friend is dead because he tried to sleep in a garage. A teenage boy had to have a bullet removed from his brain because he went to the wrong door. A young lady is dead because she got lost on the way to a party. Another young lady is in the hospital because she got into the wrong car in a parking lot. All of those people would be alive and well today if they hadn’t been shot. By the time you read this, there’ll be another shooting in the news, and then you’ll forget about that and there’ll be another.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Paranoia can be taught, and it can also be un-learned. Cultures can change. Just think of the way we were all conditioned to hate cigarettes in elementary school. Now, cigarette smoking rates are declining sharply. You can see similar trends with Americans being taught to wear seatbelts. Propaganda got us into this, and a change in propaganda can get us out. I’m not the only one who’s saying this; I’m sure many people are.
It will be too late for Kevin Smith, and for all the other victims we’ve seen recently, and for the next batch of unlucky people we’ll hear about next. But I’m confident that we could save countless lives.
And I’m sure we ought to try.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.