Done With Guns | Opinion | Salt Lake City Weekly

Done With Guns 

Salt Lake itself went on to make the list of cities with a mass shooting.

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Another April gone. Every year when "the cruelest month" rolls around, I find myself reflecting on a tragic event from more than two decades ago that shaped my teen years. Few can forget the day two students at Littleton, Colorado's Columbine High went on a shooting rampage that killed 12 students and a teacher.

I was a 17-year-old junior at Cottonwood High School in Murray on April 20, 1999. I spent that day glued to my TV watching images of terrified students who were every bit my peers. Others were being carted out in body bags from their high school. I don't have to look up the footage of the panicked students literally running for their lives, because they are forever seared into memory.

Twenty-two years later, I can still feel the raw emotions that enveloped me. When I was 17, I thought that Columbine was an aberration—a horrific isolated incident that would be met with swift reforms. Little did I know that mass shootings would soon become the norm.

Salt Lake itself went on to make the list of cities with a mass shooting. On the evening of Feb. 12, 2007, 18-year-old Sulejman Talovi entered Trolley Square shopping mall and shot five shoppers, and wounded four others, before he was killed by police.

On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza used a rifle and a handgun that belonged to his mother to fatally shoot 26 human beings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty students as young as 6 years old died. Let me repeat that. Adam Lanza fatally shot multiple kindergarteners. And virtually nothing changed.

What Sandy Hook revealed is that a large portion of the U.S. population value the unrestricted right to bear arms over the right of an elementary school student to arrive at school alive and not leave in a body bag.

In the wake of these all-too frequent shootings, many gun enthusiasts claim the answer to curbing gun violence is simply arming "good" guys with guns to take down the "bad" ones.

My own brush with gun violence taught me how truly laughable the "good guys with guns" hypothesis is. On June 22, 2010—three weeks after I had moved to my adopted home of New Orleans—I was walking in the residential section of Bourbon Street at noon, when a 37-year-old man stepped in front of me on the sidewalk, pulled out a gun and demanded that I give him all of my money, or he was going to kill me.

I will never forget how tense and unhinged my mugger was. I have replayed this encounter so many times in my mind, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt if I had reached into my purse and pulled out a gun, my mugger would have shot me multiple times. If some self-appointed Captain America vigilante had swooped in and tried to save the day by pulling out a gun—there is no question that someone would have been injured or killed. And I'm pretty sure that person riddled with bullet holes and bleeding out on the sidewalk would have been me.

I was able to defuse a potentially deadly situation by complying with my mugger's demands. I didn't have any cash, so I handed over my ATM card. I recall repeating my ATM pin over and over again in the blazing afternoon sun. No one was hurt, and all of my stolen money was refunded by my bank. The evidence in my case put a serial mugger behind bars. I have mixed feelings about putting my assailant in jail for reasons that I will explain shortly.

Why do so many people throw up their hands and act like there is no solution to the epidemic of U.S. gun violence. Really? When the United States is the only country in the world that has regular mass shootings? Maybe we can look at other countries with low rates of gun violence and consider how we might adopt some workable policy solutions.

In the wake of a 2019 attack on a mosque that killed 50 people, the New Zealand parliament banned military-style weapons. Any type of proposed gun ban works a sizable portion of the U.S. population into a frenzy, but it's long past the time to ask ourselves if high-capacity guns designed solely to brutally kill as many people as possible in the blink of an eye really have a place in a civilized society.

I understand that a gun is a tool. My Southern grandpa was an avid hunter who owned several guns. There is not a single piece of proposed common-sense gun legislation that would have impacted my grandfather in the least. It is high time for background checks, waiting periods to buy guns, closing easy firearm-access loopholes at gun shows, and red-flag laws that would temporarily remove firearms from potentially dangerous individuals who might cause harm to themselves or others.

Gun violence is undeniably a complex issue that requires solutions beyond simply regulating guns. I am haunted by the fact that the man who mugged me thought that the ATM was broken because he could not withdraw money in $50 increments with my stolen card. That tells me that my 37-year-old mugger was so disenfranchised, he never had a bank card. Curbing gun violence requires a commitment to economic equality, accessible and affordable mental health care, and sensible gun control.

There are countless workable, logical solutions to the scourge of gun violence. Contrary to popular belief, mass shootings don't have to be the norm. We should not allow the psychic wounds of these tragedies to fully heal until the powers that be take decisive action on gun violence.

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About The Author

Jenny Poplar

Jenny Poplar is both a dancer and a frequent City Weekly contributor.

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