Greta Adams (not her real name) lives in Philadelphia, the city in which her son was murdered. Most people may not care so much, but Greta cares about the stark, ugly truth that the city of Philadelphia is experiencing an unprecedented crisis of gun violence.
She may not have cared that much before, but she deeply cares now. These days, Greta is not at all complacent about murder by firearms and, in her own indomitable way, won’t stand for it.
While reading my usual daily periodicals, I came across the story of this not-so-usual woman, a mother and a nurse. Her son Mark Adams was killed on Memorial Day 2015, at age 20. For Mark, a normal gathering of friends that night became his last gathering. While trying to break up a fight in a Philadelphia park, he was shot to death.
In 2021, more than 550 people were murdered in Philadelphia, making the number of homicide victims in 2021 far greater than in any year since 1960. In addition to the 550 murders, almost 2,000 other people were shot and survived.
“In 2021, more than 550 people were murdered in Philadelphia, making the number of homicide victims in 2021 far greater than in any year since 1960.”
Not surprisingly, people of color and young people bore the impact of the murders, with 95% being people of color, 75% being Black males. Additionally in 2021, Philadelphia navigated 25 mass shootings that never even made national headline news. It begs the question: Does the public now view mass shootings as inevitable, or even commonplace? Do Americans dismiss gun violence as something we just have to get used to?
At first, denial
Greta probably never will get used to any so-called “commonplace” murders, because in her memories, there is an indelible picture of a murdered son. When the authorities finally allowed her to see Mark on the night he was murdered, she expected to see “a bloody mess” as she put it. Instead, she described the moment something like this, “My son looked like he was just laying there asleep, like he was going to jump up and be like, ‘Hey, Mom!’ He had a little scratch on his nose from when he fell after he was shot, but that was it.”
Greta kept talking to Mark that night, telling him he was OK and that the bullets didn’t kill him. Something inside her desperately needed to believe the bullets did not kill him. She insisted on telling the doctors that her son must have died from something else, maybe an asthma attack.
“They just looked at me like I was crazy,” she recounted, “but I just couldn’t believe my son had died like this. I refused to sign his death certificate.”
Greta did not cry that night. For two years she did not cry. Not shedding a tear when her son was murdered is actually not an uncommon reaction. Many mourning persons hold their tears inside, especially immediately after a death. And when the death is a murder, a sudden and violent death, next of kin almost always feel awash with shock, followed by a feeling of complete numbness. In some ways, the psyche is protecting itself from what many people call “falling apart.”
“Not shedding a tear when her son was murdered is actually not an uncommon reaction.”
“If I start crying, I’m afraid I’ll cry forever,” is a real emotion felt by victim families. A murder of a son is an unspeakable trauma for a mother. While trauma responses vary, many people are concerned when they realize they feel nothing. They see others weeping, expressing anger, or throwing up their hands in despair, while they are still feeling nothing. The technical word for feeling nothing is “anhedonia,” a common symptom for someone responding to a sudden traumatic event. Whether a common reaction or not, feeling nothing feels awful. Feeling nothing is like feeling empty, dead inside, without a hint of emotion.
Mobilizing grieving mothers
Empty and dead inside was very likely how Greta felt until December 2017, almost two years after Mark’s murder, when the man who murdered him was found guilty. Greta finally started crying, and she could not stop. Desperate to get help, she found several groups of mothers who had lost their children to gun violence. Soon after, Greta started mobilizing other grieving mothers.
Out of the blue, Greta came up with a hypothesis she had not heard anyone say before. “People don’t seem to have a lot of ways to fix gun violence,” she said. “I think one thing we can do is get rid of the bullets. We know a lot of people have guns, but if we’re able to take away at least one bullet, we can save a life.” You might recall Greta’s first reaction to Mark’s murder when she became fixated on the bullets that penetrated her son’s body.
So Greta put heft to her hypothesis. She and a group of moms from her Philadelphia support group, Moms Bonded by Grief, took to the streets and began asking people to turn in their bullets. They collected the bullets and used them to make memorial bracelets, wanting to turn them into something positive. “The guns aren’t going to work without bullets,” Greta argued.
“People don’t seem to have a lot of ways to fix gun violence. I think one thing we can do is get rid of the bullets.”
She’s right, I learned as I did my research. There really is such a thing as advocacy for bullet control. Certainly, national attention is primarily focused on U.S. gun laws but, for the most part, little attention is given to the weak oversight of the ammunition industry.
There have been previous efforts to increase federal regulation of ammunition, most notably actions in the mid-1990s led by the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y. When it comes to the sale and possession of ammunition, only a few states have acted to fill some of the regulatory gaps in federal law. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, California and New York are the only two states that require background checks for ammunition sales.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week 2022 recently ended, on April 30 in fact, but the focus on prevention of crime must never wane, as so many communities are experiencing unprecedented statistics on gun violence.
A recent Pew Research Center article offers troubling statistics on gun violence in the United States. The article states: “The 45,222 total gun deaths in 2020 were by far the most on record, representing a 14% increase from the year before, a 25% increase from five years earlier and a 43% increase from a decade prior. Gun murders, in particular, have climbed sharply in recent years. The 19,384 gun murders that took place in 2020 were the most since at least 1968.”
“Suicides accounted for more than half of gun-related deaths in 2020.”
Pew also brings to focus another alarming statistic, that suicides accounted for more than half of gun-related deaths in 2020.
But what can I do?
One question continues to hover over this nation, and over each of us, like an ominous, dark cloud: “What can I realistically do about murder and other forms of violence?” A response to that question is mandatory for those who care, but a good start would be making a commitment to be well-informed and to stand courageously against violence in all its forms.
For Greta, it was all about the bullets. You might be asking if there is really such a thing as a bracelet, and other jewelry for that matter, made with bullets. Check it out. You may be surprised to learn that bullet jewelry really is “a thing” these days.
After the crying subsided, Greta began to work for positive change and inspired many who heard of her work. Her activism leaves us with at least three valuable lessons:
- Become a more-informed citizen, an activist who is aware enough to help influence the passage of state and federal legislation that protects children, young people and every person from violence.
- No matter how small your work of activism may seem, it contributes to the big war against violent tragedies committed with guns.
- Be one of those people who will tenderly hold a mourner’s heart in your hands — when they feel nothing and when their crying will not stop.
As we look ahead to two of this nation’s beloved holidays — Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — we will hear fireworks in our neighborhoods, lots of them. The firework sounds of celebration we hear on these holidays are sometimes intermingled with the sound of gunfire we can do without. It makes for a much safer celebration to leave the firearms at home, locked away where they belong.
Kathy Manis Findley is an ordained Baptist minister with Greek Orthodox roots. Now retired in Macon, Ga., she spent her 38-year ministry serving as a pastor, hospital chaplain, trauma counselor and missionary to Uganda. She is a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and is certified in victimology, trauma intervention and child forensic interviewing. She is the author of two serious books, Voices of our Sisters and The Survivor’s Voice: Healing the Invisible Wounds of Violence and Abuse, and just for fun, one Kindle novel.
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