Thursday, February 15, 2018

My Thoughts on Gun Control

WARNING: This post contains a graphic description of the results of gun violence.

Let's just get this out here:  I am adamantly anti-violence and, therefore, anti-gun. If you want to know why, keep reading.

I grew up in the South, where hunting and fishing is still a way of life, and my grandfather sometimes brought us quail or deer meat to cook for Sunday supper. But I have never understood why regular citizens need to own guns of any kind, particularly automatic weapons.

The first time I shot a gun was when I was in high school in Nashville, Tenn. My boyfriend at the time, who liked to hunt, set up target practice in his backyard one weekend. We shot beer cans with a .22 rifle. It was easy enough to handle the gun and I had no problem hitting the targets, but it never became a hobby. I actually joined my boyfriend on a hunting trip in the early 1990's. We spent several hours tromping through the woods in rural middle Tennessee, where I managed to fire one round from a 12 gauge shotgun in the direction of a deer and almost ended up on my ass due to the recoil. Needless to say, I missed the deer, but our hunting party did bag a rabbit, whose bloody, still-warm carcass I was forced to carry in my backpack for the remainder of the outing.

I didn't fire another gun until last year, when I was traveling in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, after touring many of the war-ravaged sites of Mostar, my guide, who was shot twice during the 1990's Balkan conflicts, took me to an abandoned bunker where we had target practice with an air rifle. I hit the beer can on my first try from about 30 feet away.

I have seen first-hand the effects of a fatal gunshot wound. When I was in college, I worked 12-hour shifts as a firefighter and first responder. We would get dispatched for medical calls and almost always arrived on the scene before the ambulance. I have extricated people from mangled cars using the Jaws of Life, done CPR on an elderly man, and straddled a large and surprisingly strong 10-year-old girl who was in diabetic shock. But the patients that haunt me the most are the young man who committed suicide at home by putting a gun in his mouth, and the clerk who was shot in the abdomen with a shotgun at close range during a convenience store robbery.

The clerk was still alive when we loaded him in the ambulance and I rode with him to the hospital, manually administering oxygen while an EMT took his vitals and applied pressure to the gaping wound. They rushed him into surgery but he was dead within minutes. I will never forget the helpless feeling of knowing there was nothing I could do for this man, the fear in his eyes and his desperate attempts to say something, the fragments of his insides scattered throughout the large pool of blood on the floor, the x-ray the nurse shared with me that showed the shotgun pellets had dispersed throughout his entire torso from neck to waist.

While I was working for the fire department, I started dating a coworker. Dan was much older than me and was a career firefighter for the City of Chattanooga. Our relationship raised plenty of eyebrows, but, over time, most people came to accept it even if they didn't understand it. The one person who couldn't tolerate it was Dan's ex-girlfriend, who still lived in the home he owned. When Dan stopped by the house one day to pick up some personal items, she flew into a rage and shot him in the stomach. I heard the call go out over my police scanner and rushed to the scene, making it there in time to ride with him in the ambulance. Dan was extremely lucky; the bullet enter his abdomen at an angle and lodged itself in a layer of fat, missing his vital organs. Still, the trauma of getting shot took many years for both of us to overcome.

When I started dating my now-husband Greg in 2009, he owned a GLOCK 22 semi-automatic .40 caliber handgun, which he legally carried in the glove compartment of his Prius. His reason for having the weapon: self-defense. I told him that the gun was a deal-breaker for me. Thankfully, he chose me over the GLOCK.

So here we are in 2018. I have not been directly affected by gun violence for almost 20 years, but I have experienced the horrors of other forms of terrorism, like living in New York City during the attacks on September 11, 2001. Yet no matter how much I travel or how much I try to limit my exposure to the 24/7 news cycle, I still cannot avoid the almost constant reports of mass shootings that continue to occur in the United States and the fact that, in spite of the number of innocent people that have been killed as a result of this unnecessary violence, nothing has been done to reduce the chances of it happening again and again and again.

I did some research on the types of venues where mass shootings (generally defined as when a gunman kills four or more people) have occurred in the United States in the past decade. In no particular order, these are some of the locations:

  • residences
  • schools
  • places of worship
  • office buildings
  • shopping malls
  • parking lots
  • entertainment venues
  • restaurants
  • military bases
  • community centers
  • nursing homes

If I change "mass" to multiple i.e. more than one person killed, then I can include every other type of public or private space in the U.S.: city streets, transit vehicles, post offices, supermarkets, daycare facilities, etc. Which means that, whether you are inside your home, at work, or out in public going about your day-to-day activities, you are at risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, thus becoming the next victim of gun violence.

What is notably missing from this list? Attacks on members of the federal government. With the exception of two incidents, the January 2011 shooting of a congresswoman and eighteen others during a constituent meeting in Arizona, and the June 2017 shooting of a congressman and three others during baseball practice in Virginia, there have been no mass shootings involving elected or appointed members of the executive, legislative or judicial branches of the United States government.

The scope of the Second Amendment has been manipulated by certain parties to make it fit their definition of civil rights, specifically, the right to bear arms. But who in the U.S. really needs to be armed? Only our military and our police forces and perhaps people who live in rural areas who need to defend themselves or their livestock against predatory animals. At the very least, any type of semi-automatic or automatic weapon or device that enables a firearm to be modified from its original design should be banned for possession, sale, or use by anyone who is not an active member of our military and police. You do not need an automatic weapon for hunting and you certainly won't need it for self defense as a complete ban, which would require all current gun owners to turn in their weapons and ammunition, would thus eliminate the threat which many people use as their excuse for owning a gun in the first place.

It's well past time that we rewrite the law, not just state by state, but at a federal level. Sadly, it appears that nothing will change until a mass shooting occurs in the building where those laws are made in Washington, D.C. When members of Congress are forced to watch as their fellow senators and elected representatives are gunned down en masse, when they experience the effects of gun violence firsthand, only then will they have the courage to stand up to the NRA and to pass immediate legislation that will stop this madness. Of course, I am not advocating for such an attack, but rather trying to understand how much worse things have to get before our government will take action.

Of course, there will still be people who intend to do harm to others. And mental illness is a serious problem which we are not addressing adequately enough. There will still be terrorist incidents involving bombs, poisonings, vehicles, and cyber attacks. But imagine a United States without guns. If you really want to kill someone in particular, you will be forced to engage in hand-to-hand combat, or to use a tool like a knife, a baseball bat, or some other handheld weapon that forces you to be in close proximity and to look your victim in the eye. Archery may enjoy a resurgence in popularity, but at least the odds of someone committing mass murder by bow and arrow are exceedingly low.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In Loving Memory of Kate Coates Jones

My heart is heavy, my head is spinning with grief, and my eyes are wet with tears. The world has lost a beautiful and spirited human being who loved life, spending time with friends and family, good food and drink, knitting, gardening, hiking, the outdoors, and helping others through her physical therapy practice. She also loved Rodney Kibzey, who was her rock (her words).

Kate Coates Jones and I became friends on Facebook in May 2016 although I'm certain I met her a while before that. She and Rodney moved to Portland from Chicago in 2013. In May 2014, during a routine check-up, Kate was diagnosed with cancer. There were tumors on her colon, liver, and abdominal lymph nodes. After six months of chemo infusions, the tumors had shrunk enough to switch to oral medication. That, plus antineoplastic infusions to help prevent development of more tumors, allowed her to continue to pursue her dreams and passions for almost two years.

When I met Kate she was still in maintenance mode so, with the exception of being able to see her chemo port if she wore a sundress or low-cut top, it was not obvious she was ill. That summer of 2016, Kate, Rodney and I, along with some of our mutual friends, shared some great times together camping in Parkdale, Ore., watching the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby, cooking out, and drinking beer together on many, many occasions.
L to R: Don Scheidt, Rodney Kibzey, Kate Jones, Cherie Warren, and Greg LaRowe
celebrating the 5th anniversary of Bazi Bierbrasserie in Portland on May 27, 2016
Kate was an excellent writer. She honestly and sincerely documented her life with cancer on Here is a sample from her journal entry on October 29, 2016 as she was starting a new round of chemo after CT scans showed the tumors were growing again: "What is it about facing one’s mortality that awakens the senses to all the beauty in the world? Why do I suddenly notice the seemingly infinite shades of green to yellow to red in the maple leaves as they dance in sun rays streaming between the skyscrapers? And why does that beauty move me to tears several times each day?"

Unfortunately, by the end of August 2017, Kate was coming to terms with the ever-increasing reality that she was not going to beat this cancer. While she valiantly endured more chemo, even that was not an option by mid-October as her blood cell counts were too low to continue. After being deferred from treatments for three weeks in a row (including one day when I accompanied her to her scheduled chemo appointment that turned into a 10 hour ordeal) and with CT scans showing aggressive growth of the liver tumors and other complications causing further health issues, it was time to slow down. She reluctantly took medical leave from her job as a physical therapist and started preparing for the inevitable, with no way of knowing how quickly things would progress without treatment. By mid-December, she was referred to hospice.

I stayed with Kate for 10 hours on Thursday, January 4, 2018 so Rodney could work his first full day in the office in weeks. I hadn't seen her since November because I had been sick with a sinus infection and flu-like symptoms for over two weeks in early and mid December, then Kate was out of town visiting her family in Kentucky for the week of Christmas. Her body may have betrayed and ultimately was failing her, but her mind was still sharp. We didn't talk much that day (she was sleeping a lot at this point), but I remember her sarcastically saying how boring it must be to hang out with her now. I laughed and told her I was always appreciative of any time I got to spend with her, no matter what the circumstances. That afternoon Kate shared with me her two biggest concerns, neither of which involved fear or regret. As I was getting ready to leave that evening, Kate reminded me that she wanted me to try on her shoes (we wear the same size) to see if I could use any of them. I told her we could do that the next time I saw her.

I was supposed to be at Kate and Rodney's house again by 7:30 Monday morning January 8 so Rodney could go to work at his office for a half day. Kate's dad and brother were scheduled to fly in from Kentucky that afternoon. When I woke up around 5:30 a.m. I saw a message from Rodney that Kate had a rough night and he had decided to stay home with her. Thus I wouldn't need to come over so early, but if I wanted to drop in later I could. Kate had specifically asked for chocolate pudding so I had made her some Sunday night and was planning to bring it with me. I told Rodney I would check in around 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. to see when I could stop by.

My husband Greg was about to leave for his bike ride to the office just before 6:00 a.m. when I got the message from Rodney that Kate had just passed away. I immediately started sobbing uncontrollably, for the loss of my friend, for Rodney, and for the unthinkable reality that it could have been me who was with her instead. Greg did his best to comfort me, even offering to work from home so I wouldn't be alone. I sent him on his way, knowing that there was a possibility that I would go over to check on Rodney later.

I have experienced losses similar to this before, but the circumstances were different. In 2014, my aunt Jeanna passed away after a 24-year battle with cancer. She was 48 years old. Just over one year later, my uncle Jim passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58. I wrote about my relationship with him and the impact of losing him here:

I have lost other loved ones and friends, too, but Kate's death strikes a heavy blow. Her youth (she would have been 46 in February), her otherwise excellent health up until her diagnosis, and her selfless commitment to helping others and to caring for the environment; Kate should have had many more happy and fulfilling years with Rodney ahead of her.

Rest in peace, my friend. Words cannot express how much you will be missed!