ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — There is an Episcopal church, St. Anna’s, on Esplanade Avenue near the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans. I walked by it perhaps a dozen times last April while on vacation with my family.
I had to linger there every time I passed. Mounted on the church’s exterior walls were panels covered with the names of New Orleans murder victims. The names begged to be read. Last February’s 12 murder victims, all of them shot to death, were Sara LaMont, Destrin Johnson, Joshua Jackson, Perry Thornton, Kimonte Washington, Peter Dabney, Ivan Williams, Charles Robinson, Oliver Lloyd, Darren Dedeaux, Barry Blackwell and Bryant Phillips. Their average age at the time of their deaths was 24 years.
There are several hundred names on those panels. As of Sept. 18, 130 people have been murdered this year in New Orleans. The city had the nation’s worst per capita murder rate in 2009, when 174 people were killed. Nearly all of them were shot. (Thirty people were murdered in Albuquerque last year.)
St. Anna’s says that its “Murder Wall” is “a simple way to humanize the too-often forgotten victims of murder in New Orleans.”
The owner of the bed-and-breakfast where we were staying farther north on Esplanade hated the Murder Wall, and not only for the obvious reason – that it might be bad for business if tourists walking down to the French Quarter and Marigny were reminded on every outing that New Orleans is a dangerous city. What exactly was the church accomplishing, he wanted to know. You put the names of murder victims on your wall, and then what? The body count continues.
Thursday’s shooting spree in Oregon that cost 10 people their lives was the 294th mass shooting in the United States since 2015 began, according to The Washington Post.
“We’ve gone no more than eight days without one of these incidents this year,” the Post reported. “On six days in September, there were three mass shootings or more. If the initial casualty figures in Oregon hold up, that would bring the total of deaths by mass shooting this year to 380 so far, with well over 1,000 injured.” If this is a typical year, all acts of gun violence will kill more than 10,000 people and wound at least another 20,000. The body count continues.
The president, as he did after the murder of children in Newtown and the murder of African-Americans in a Charleston church, called for common-sense gun regulation and acknowledged there is really nothing he can do about gun violence without public support and congressional action. “Obviously, there are those who are going to be calling for gun control,” presidential candidate Ben Carson said. “Obviously, that’s not the issue. The issue is the mentality of these people.” Donald Trump called the shootings horrible but said, “What are you going to do, institutionalize everybody?” In the hours after Oregon, the NRA tweeted that it has some good programs that promote gun safety. After Newtown, the NRA recommended arming teachers and other school personnel.
Only the truly paranoid believe the American people will repeal the Second Amendment, which, the Supreme Court has ruled, guarantees the right of private citizens to own guns. Only the truly naive believe that the 300 million guns in private hands in our country will be used only by well-behaved, self-controlled, responsible owners who can be depended upon not only never to misplace their guns, but never to lose their tempers or their sanity as well. When not even the deaths of 20 elementary schoolchildren in Connecticut could provoke a congressional response, only the most optimistic among us expects the federal government to do anything meaningful to protect the people from gun violence. Our nation seems to believe that 10,000-plus deaths a year is the price you pay for the vital right of nearly unfettered access to firearms. The body count will continue.
What is left, then, but to humanize the too-often forgotten victims? What is left but to remember their names? What is left but for strangers to pause by a church wall in a strange city and grieve for a moment?
Outrage and anger are left. The murder of innocents, whether they are attending classes at an Oregon community college or a Bible study session in Charleston, is barbaric.
Ben Carson may be right. The “mentality of these people” may be the problem. Then let’s hear how he would protect our children from mentally unstable people. Let’s hear how the NRA will train schoolteachers to take out gun-wielding madmen without killing innocent bystanders or accidentally letting a 5-year-old find a loaded gun in the classroom. Let’s hear why automakers can make safer cars but gun manufacturers can’t make safer guns.
Or, let’s hear why it is good public policy that the body count continue.
UpFront is a daily front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Winthrop Quigley at 823-3896 or email@example.com. Go to www.ABQjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.