We don’t know how or when this horrific saga of gun violence gripping Southern Illinois will end. Unfortunately, we feel certain that more heart-rending chapters of loss will be written before we reach a resolution.
Although reports of shootings ebb and flow, it seems the region can’t go 10 days without an incident — whether it be in Carbondale, Harrisburg, Marion or elsewhere. Outwardly, Southern Illinoisans live in what appears to be an idyllic area — small towns with tree-lined streets, rivers, lakes and hills. But we are hardly immune from the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our nation.
The latest tragedies occurred in Carbondale last week when 16-year-old Xe`Quan Campbell was accidentally killed and Keon Cooper, 27, was gunned down in a parking lot on South Illinois Avenue. Campbell’s killing was apparently a case of mistaken identity. Cooper was apparently gunned down in cold blood.
The police investigation into Campbell’s death indicates the guns used were legally obtained. The shooter had the required permits to carry the guns. While it is somewhat reassuring to the community that his death wasn’t a random act of violence, there is zero solace to be taken.
The harsh lesson here is that legally purchased guns are as deadly as black market or stolen weapons. Legally purchased bullets don’t discriminate between friend or foe, they don’t discriminate by race, creed or age when they tear through flesh, break bones or destroy vital organs.
The tears shed for young Mr. Campbell will be profuse, heartfelt and painful. The fact that his death is the result of an accidental shooting doesn’t diminish the loss to family and friends.
Sadly, this wasn’t Campbell’s first brush with gun violence in his short life. He was feted earlier this year for disarming another person on a school bus in Carbondale. That’s more than enough exposure to gun play in an extended lifetime, much less compressed into 16 years.
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These latest deaths, these latest reports of shootings, leave us all shaking our heads, searching in vain for answers, especially easy fixes. The two most commonly heard suggestions — more good people need to arm themselves or we need to return to prayer and traditional family values — leave us empty.
There are more guns than people in the United States right now. If sheer numbers of weapons quashed violence, it certainly feels we would have already reached that point. What is the saturation point?
As far as prayer and traditional family values, our Judeo-Christian background has made it clear for thousands of years, “Thou shalt not kill.”
The vast majority of us learned those words as young children. The vast majority of us hold those words to be sacred and vital to our way of life, yet, here we are, lamenting to death of two more young people as the result of senseless violence.
And, as the frustration mounts, we find one single word haunting us.
Why do young people have to barricade themselves in a room fearful of being attacked? Why are they in that position? What is lacking in their lives? Why do arguments and fights escalate to the level of lethal force?
Why do so many people seem incapable of understanding that pulling the trigger is an act that can’t be undone? Why do so many of us not realize the finality, the gravity of that simple action?
These questions will have to be answered honestly and completely before we as a community, before the United States as a nation can begin to address this grisly epidemic of shootings.
In the meantime, we are left to mourn those who left this world entirely too early. It’s an empty, haunting feeling.