What if you didn’t grow up amid America’s gun culture, but are still a member of the race which suffers the most from U.S gun violence? As Gary Younge, a black reporter who grew up in England demonstrates in a moving new book titled, “Another Day in the Death of America: A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives,” it might cause you to ask hard questions other reporters duck.
Why are the deaths of poor or minority children all but ignored by society—as are the 10 profiled in the book?
Why is “justice” seldom served—with half the perpetrators in the book’s deaths not even identified and others barely punished?
Why does discussion of U.S. gun violence often center on human factors like bad parenting, when other countries with the same problems have a fraction of our gun violence?
Fifty-three years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy by a perpetrator who bought a mail order carbine rifle for $19.95, Younge chronicles the story of 10 young men who were randomly shot and killed on November 23, 2013. It was not easy reporting. Requesting an interview with bereaved and vigilant families is hard for any reporter, but people were especially suspicious of a black man “with an English accent,” Younge recounts.
Still, Younge fleshes together his stories from interviews with friends and families, police reports, social media and a reporter’s eye for location and detail. (In one neighborhood, there’s so much gunfire, the dogs don’t even bark anymore, he writes.)
The stories are unsettling and eerily similar. In several, families hold their loved ones while they die, sometimes awaiting paramedics. In several, there is no clear reason for the shooting or victims die from mistaken identities. In all the stories, friends and family are tormented and mobilized for further violence, receive little support from authorities, and blame themselves, others, bad parenting, gangs, poverty, or drugs—everything but the guns themselves.
Younge cautions at the beginning of “Another Day” that the book is not about “gun control” but is about “what happens when you don’t have gun control,” and laws are blocked by the gun lobby. For example, when Smith & Wesson inked a “smart gun technology” deal in 2000, the NRA demonized them as “the first gun maker to run up the white flag of surrender” and blocked smart gun legislation. Smart gun technology could open “the door to a ban on all guns,” warned the NRA, and sellers of smart guns were threatened with death.
And consider what happened to the father of a young man who provided the gun in one death in the book. Though the father was a convicted felon and drug dealer legally barred from owning guns (including the one his son used to kill a playmate), he was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor and released on $2,500 bail.
Younge correctly pinpoints the self-defense, “frontier” narratives that fuel the gun rights movements. “Pick up a rifle, a pistol, a shotgun, and you’re handling a piece of American history,” he quotes Chris Kyle, the “American Sniper,” saying. Kyle boasted of 160 confirmed “combat kills” in Iraq. “Take the gun up now, and the smell of black powder and saltpeter sting the air. Raise the rifle to your shoulder and look into the distance. You are not a target but a whole continent of potential, of great things to come, a promising future,” rhapsodized Kyle.
Yet the 10 deaths in “Another Day” and the 30,000 other U.S. gun deaths each year have nothing to do with self-defense, a “continent” under siege or a “promising future.” They reflect a nation awash in guns and gun deaths and a gun lobby that ensure both will continue by blocking gun laws.
Martha Rosenberg is a freelance journalist and the author of the highly acclaimed “Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health,” published by Prometheus Books. Check her Facebook page.