Gunfire: Same Sound, Different Meanings in Rural & Urban America

I’ll never forget the flat staccato of the semi-automatics or the boom of the shotgun blasts that would regularly pierce the night sky. As a resident and reporter in Santa Ana I’d pray that the noise wasn’t the prelude to yet another homicide story, where I’d have to interview distraught parents wondering why, wives shorn of their husband’s love, friends mourning their buddies and traumatized neighbors forced to clean the blood off their sidewalks.

I remember:

  • Finishing an interview at Pio Pico Elementary School, driving 100-yards and seeing a teenager laying in the street, blood flowing toward the gutter as cops flooded the area looking for the perpetrator. He lived but others didn’t.
  • The parents who kept celebrating their son’s birthday, year after year. Of reading the search warrant, describing how the killer had shot him at point blank in the brain while he hid behind a car fender. And then the shooter went onto kill another kid – and all because they yelled a drunken insult at the Southside House.
  • Interviewing a young dad with a bullet lodged in his head about, how he knew who shot him, but that he couldn’t tell the police for fear of being killed by other gang members. You can read the story here
  • Covering my first shootings; two separate shootings leaving two teenagers dead and a 13-year old in critical condition. When I went to visit the 13-year’s old family, one of my questions got turned into me supposedly saying that the kid had died. The wailing and tears of that apartment living room are burned in my mind.
  • Teenagers in wheelchairs, alive but partially paralyzed by the bullets that shredded their spines.
  • Calling the police four or five times in one night to report the non-stop gunfire from a block or two away; until I gave up when I learned that in the ‘hood, just because you call the police, doesn’t mean the gunfire stops.

I could go on, but for me guns and gunfire meant only one thing – fear and loss.

Then I went to Washington DC and was talking to someone who grew up in rural Klamath county, where shotgun blasts meant duck hunting and the crack of the rifle meant deer season.

“I’d get up before dawn, go duck hunting and bring my birds to school for cleaning before starting class. The shotgun stayed in the truck and no one cared or called the police – it was just part of life.”

Similar sounds, almost entirely different meanings. When urban America talks about guns, they see death and destruction. When rural America talks about guns they see ducks, deer and dinner.

So when urban America hears about gun control, they see it as a common sense way to save lives, but when rural America hears about gun control, they see their way of life being threatened. Layer on additional racial, ethnic and economic enmities and is it any wonder why we’re so divided on this and almost every other issue in America?


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