We Need More Than Luck

logo_sltrib_black

My Op-Ed on gun violence from November 14, 2015:

Last weekend I took my 9-year-old on a mother-daughter date to Fashion Place Mall. As we sat in the crowded food court enjoying an ice cream, two white men in their early 20s walked by our table, each wearing jeans, a tucked-in T-shirt and a prominently displayed gun in its holster. The men walked slowly and seemed to enjoy the fact that people in the food court were visibly alarmed by their conspicuous exhibition of weapons.

My immediate response was fear for my and my daughter’s lives. We have all seen the tragedies in the news. We’ve heard how these incidents play out: A man calmly walks into a crowded public space with a gun and begins shooting innocent people at random. These acts of unconscionable violence are so common and numerous in the U.S. that we refer to them in shorthand by their location: Columbine, Fort Hood, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Charleston, Isla Vista, Trolley Square.

Heart pounding, I took my daughter’s hand and quickly walked away from the area, fearing that today our photos would be the ones in the news, and people would say of us, “They just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Upset at leaving her ice cream, my daughter resisted and asked where we were going. When I told her that some men in the food court had guns and it wasn’t safe to stay there, her eyes got big with fear; she squeezed my hand and hastened her steps. As soon as we got out of the area, I called mall security and reported the situation.

I learned that Fashion Place Mall has a common sense safety policy about guns. Even though Utah is an “open carry state,” the mall, as a private property owner, does not allow guests to openly carry guns on its property. The security officer on duty asked the men to either secure their guns in their car or leave, and they chose the latter.

Luckily, no one was shot that day at the food court. The day before, however, the people of Colorado Springs were not so lucky. When Naomi Bettis saw a man walking down the street with a rifle out, she called 911. The dispatcher dismissed her concern, saying, “Well, it is an open carry state, so he can have a weapon with him or walking around with it.”

Eleven minutes later, Bettis called 911 again to report that the man had shot and killed someone in the street and was continuing on a shooting rampage. He would go on to kill two more people in the street before dying in a shootout with police.

The problem with the policy of “open carry” is that it creates a volatile situation whose course is impossible to predict for potential victims, 911 dispatchers or police. I had no way to tell in the food court with my daughter whether the two men getting their kicks out of parading around with their guns on display were motivated by the Second Amendment or a sociopathic urge to kill strangers.

Mass shootings like the one in Colorado Springs on Halloween have become a constant feature in the U.S. I feel lucky that my daughter and I weren’t shot by the gun-toting men in the food court at Fashion Place Mall, but luck shouldn’t be our only recourse. I challenge our lawmakers to implement common-sense legislation to end the rampant proliferation of gun violence in America. As we enter the presidential election season, I will be looking for a candidate who is willing to take on this challenge.