Thursday, June 07, 2007

A History of Guns: Part Six

This is the sixth in a personal history of guns in my life. Previous entries: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five.

The Working Years
When I started working full-time at the Startlegram, I did sports agate -- that's the little type like box scores, standings, leaders. It's a Sisyphean task. Do well at it and you can set yourself apart -- one guy who did it before me went on to become sport editor at the San Jose Mercury-News and another went on to win awards for writing about the Iditarod sled dog race. One of the people I supervised went on to cover the UN for The Associated Press and another guy is now a sports editor in North Carolina. But the one guy I remember the most was Brian Shults.

Brian was a funny guy with a big smile and an easy way about him. His dream was to be the beat writer covering the San Jose Sharks. And he could have done it, too. He won two Gold Circle Awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association -- there’s future Pultizer winners on that list. He was that good.

But Brian was also troubled. He was in recovery for his alcoholism when I met him at age 22. I used to hang with Brian and his other AA buddies Skip and Big Ron at Ol South Pancake House even though I wasn’t a Friend of Bill W. I’d sit and smoke cigarettes and drink coffee with the boys until the wee hours. In fact, I was with those guys at Ol South the first time I met my wife. Brian was neurotic as hell but poked fun at his misery. He even tried his hand at standup and did pretty well.

One Saturday night, I was finishing up some agate real late -- like 1 a.m. -- when Brian stopped by my desk. He had just filed a review of a standup performance by a comedian I had never heard of named Ellen Degeneres. We shot the breeze for 10 minutes. We talked about him doing standup. He made me laugh.

I was the last person to see Brian alive. The police found him the next afternoon in a field by his apartment complex. He shot himself with a pistol he bought from a pawn shop on Division Street in Arlington earlier that week. Because I was his supervisor, I got to tell his roommate.

I think about Brian from time to time. I wonder what he would be doing if he were alive. Mostly, I get angry because I believe he might still be alive if he hadn’t gotten his hands on a gun. But there are lots of ways to kill yourself, and who’s to say Brian wouldn’t have found another one. The experts say men are usually successful when they attempt suicide because they don’t grab a fistful of pills, they grab a gun. They get it right the first time.

Why do people do these things? What was so wrong in Brian's life that this was the answer? Could I have done anything to help Brian? Those are questions without answers. I accepted that a long time ago. Another question apparently without answer is why guns are a fact of American life?

Working at a newspaper, you get to hear all the stuff that doesn’t get in the paper and read all of the little three paragraph items that make up the never-ending onslaught of tragedy in urban life. Gang shootings, robberies, kids killed by their father’s guns -- I always read more of those kind of stories than stories where someone used a gun to stop a crime. Those are the things that formed most of my feelings about guns. Go ahead and blame the media. Blame Brian. But it seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, that many gun deaths are needless, stupid and preventable.

No comments: