Most of us are fortunate, in that our lives and our families have not intersected with gun violence. For the prominence that shootings and deaths maintain in the media, it is still uncommon for most people to experience a personal connection to such an occurrence.
But for those who are affected by gun violence, their lives forever suffer altered trajectories. A son, a daughter, a sibling, a parent are no longer in their lives. Even those who are injured and survive live on forever with the physical, mental and social scars.
There are no simple remedies to reducing gun violence. Were there, they’d have been tried long ago. Some reasonable regulations could impact small aspects of the overall problem while still protecting the Second Amendment and rights of responsible gun ownership.
But perhaps what is needed, more than anything now, is empathy, compassion and the collective understanding of what gun violence does to us as individuals and a community. Such was the point of a three-hour awareness event held recently in Southern Pines.
Pain Without End
The event was organized by the Moore County NAACP and Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It featured a number of local families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.
The Moore County Sheriff’s Office has recorded 61 firearm-related fatalities over the past 20 years. They range from drug-related shootings to North Carolina’s largest mass shooting, which left eight people dead. That happened in 2009 on a quiet Sunday morning at a Carthage nursing home.
While we like to think of ourselves as this isolated environment of resort and retirement living, we are not unlike so many other communities in how we suffer the impact of shooting fatalities. The victims’ families, like Hilda Swinnie, are left to wrestle with what was and what’s to come.
The violence awareness event coincided with what would have been her son’s 31st birthday. Wesley Allen Swinnie, of Eastwood, was just 23 when he was gunned down outside the Burger King on U.S. 1 in Aberdeen. Two similarly aged men were arrested and charged.
“They killed him and then they turned around and just kept shooting,” Swinnie told the others gathered. “He was already dead but they kept shooting.”
Swinnie said she would have “killed everyone” involved with the shooting had she not found religion earlier in life.
“I woke up this morning, and the first thing I thought was, ‘Today is my son’s birthday,’” she said. “And then I said, ‘Thank God, he’s resting.’ He doesn’t have to go through this anymore. He’s been through it already.”
Losses That Lessen Us
Then there was Earl Wright. Over the years, Wright has brought so much joy to local children through his Project Santa outreach to provide new and reconditioned bicycles, helmets and other gifts to children in need. As he readied his final giveaway last fall, his 32-year-old son was shot and killed in Carthage. Wright said the “whole community suffers” when a young life is cut short by gun violence.
“We all need to come together and stop this madness,” he said, “and have a family like we used to do. Once neighborhood was a family. That’s what we need to get back to.”
That sentiment was very much on the minds of folks in Aberdeen recently when the elderly couple David Pail and Mary Lou Black were found shot to death at their home off Roseland Road.
“D.P. and Mary Lou were pillars of our community,” Sheriff Ronnie Fields said in announcing the arrest of two suspects. “They were both widely known and loved. Their death has been a tremendous loss for us all.”
With gun violence, we are all robbed of what these victims could have done for our community, but we are also robbed of those who live on but are left hollowed by their loss.