Jillian Johnson, 33, was not a native of Lafayette, La., “but was as big a champion of the region as anyone,” reported The New York Times.
She was co-owner of a printing business that specialized in shirts that trumpeted boudin sausage, plate lunches and other old Acadiana cultural touchstones. She also owned a boutique business with her husband and was a songwriter, singer, ukulele player and member of several bands.
She brought together her design sense, musical gifts and love of local culture in album artwork she created for the Cajun and zydeco bands of south Louisiana. “Sometimes it does take somebody from the outside to hold up a mirror and say, ‘This is you, and this is why you’re beautiful,’” said a local writer and musician. “Jillian did that.”
Gunnery Sergeant Thomas Sullivan, 40, grew up and attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Springfield, Mass. A Marine who served two tours in Iraq and earned two Purple Hearts, he had just come home for a visit the previous weekend.
“Tom was just a friendly guy,” said a former classmate, “He was easy to approach; everybody liked him.”
Lasean Gause, 19, was a graduate of Schenectady High School. By accounts, he was intelligent and got good grades. He played and loved football. He’d worked at Hannaford and Burger King, but wanted more; he had hopes of attending college in the fall. He lived with his mother, brother and two sisters in Hamilton Hill. A neighbor said of Lasean, “He was just a good kid, a very respectful good kid.”
And as if to remind us that this scourge is never going away on its own, there was yet another random shooting of a young man in Schenectady just this past week. Kusaan Tolliver, also “a good child,” died in Ellis Hospital.
What do these victims — of a mass shooting in a movie theater in Louisiana, of an attack on a military recruiting office in Tennessee, and of local random gunfire — have in common with the more than 10,000 others like them in this or any other year?
They are all unwitting — and certainly unwilling — martyrs to a “cause.”
They were effectively enlisted without their consent or knowledge. To be sure, they did not consciously volunteer for this particularly insidious form of martyrdom. But they truly were sacrificed — to the antediluvian cause of virtually unfettered firearms proliferation.
If this characterization sounds harsh to you, think about it for a minute.
Whose cause is this? Its champions tell us that it is all of ours. They claim that the virtues bestowed by the Second Amendment in effect demand this enormous, terrible price.
Apparently, in exchange for firearms being the fundamental guarantor of our freedom, we must endure what equates to a modern-day version of the blood sacrifice employed by our presumed primitive and less civilized ancestors to assuage their own gods.
Is this who we really are?
Are we indeed powerless to accurately identify and effectively address the causes of this carnage? Should we not be willing to leave no stone unturned in a relentless effort to fully understand this problem and solve it? Isn’t the loss and tragedy resident in these three stories palpable? Does it not reach beyond the victims themselves to their relatives, friends and neighbors, then to their communities and ultimately to all of us?
There’s much to debate here — including the misnomer that without firearms there is no freedom — but let’s not rehash the tired old arguments. We’ve all seen the numbers. To date in 2015 alone, over 7,200 gun-related deaths and 184 mass shootings as reported by the non-profit Gun Violence Archive. According to the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey, the United States is home to an estimated 35 to 50 percent of the world’s civilian owned guns. That’s a lot of casualties and a lot of firepower.
Nonetheless, it is true that we do not know with certainty why these kinds and rate of killings — mass and individual — are so high and frequent here. Some say too many firearms; others say firearms in the hands of the mentally unstable; some give still other reasons. The truth is likely some toxic combination of them all.
However, for not yet knowing, we can blame — in large part — powerful lobbyists and their acolyte lawmakers who deny government funding for any studies that just might draw a parallel between the number and types of firearms circulating throughout our society and that awful toll. What are they afraid of?
Predominately funded by arms manufacturers and merchants, the National Rifle Association — claiming to be an ardent defender of constitutional liberties but clearly acting in the financial and economic interests of its benefactors — claims that we must give an immediate pass to the estimated 270 million firearms already in circulation, as well as the ones to come. Is it really surprising that its solution is more guns in more hands?
Are we unable to see around this obvious ruse?
Many of our legislators in Albany can’t. They exercise a wholly knee-jerk reaction to any proposal that might delay for five minutes the ability of a lawful gun owner to purchase and use his or her weapon of choice. Are they saying that the relatively small and temporary personal inconveniences inherent in the SAFE Act are not worth the potential — even if it is tiny — of saving one precious human life?
We can do better than that. We have to, for our own sake. Before one of us unwittingly joins the ranks of these martyrs.
John Figliozzi of Halfmoon is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.