Durham County Courthouse via

Do you remember where you were on April 20, 1999, when the Columbine HS shooting happened? I was in 8th grade, and I remember being told to sit down on the wrestling mats in gym class while my teacher explained what happened. It was sad and scary. We had had several experiences of students threatening to do something or, more commonly, armed non-students cutting through our campus in the midst of an escape from a nearby tussle. It felt extremely possible that the same thing could happen at our school.

And, even though I was only 14 years old, I distinctly remember thinking that it wouldn’t happen again. Surely, policies would be put in place to prevent that sort of thing. Now, 23 years and 229 US school shootings later (not to mention other mass shootings), we all know I was sadly mistaken.

I don’t think I ever wrote about my experience serving on a jury for a murder trial in March 2019.

In December 2016, two young men (18 and 19 years old) got into a mysterious scuffle while driving. The men’s social circles overlapped and their relationship was somewhat adversarial, but we didn’t get to hear any details about their beef. During this vehicular scuffle, one of them ended up in a ditch. The one in the ditch happened to have his AR-15 in his car, so he shot out of his window, and then got out of the car and kept shooting until he finally shot the other man, who was unarmed, in the back of the head while he was running away.

The trial was grueling and emotionally draining. Several family members—of both the victim and the defendant—testified, and their pain was so raw, it felt like the incident happened much more recently. In a trial like that one, there is no winner.

But back to guns. The defendant acquired his automatic rifle legally from a pawn shop. His parents knew about it and, if I recall correctly, might have even paid for it or at least helped him with the purchase.

During jury selection, one of the things that was repeatedly discussed was our ability to set aside our opinions about gun control and not hold them against the defendant. In other words, I don’t believe there’s any reason a regular person should need or be able to buy an automatic rifle, but it is legal, and the defendant had the right to own it and, however irresponsible, keep it in his car. Ultimately, we were deciding whether he planned to kill the victim or if he was protecting himself (or something in between), regardless of whether we felt he should have been in possession of a gun, let alone an automatic rifle.

In a liberal city like Durham, jury selection took a long time because many jurors just couldn’t get past that piece. And despite my exasperation with the process, I was heartened to hear my neighbors’ very strong opinions on the matter (and many of them were even gun owners themselves).

I know that a majority of Americans feel similarly to my fellow jurors and support stricter gun control, prioritizing it over ownership rights. Despite this, it seems like things will never change (if 23 years of thoughts of prayers tells you anything). But we have to keep trying. We have to hold our elected officials accountable and vote in the ones that prioritize life over a gun-happy view of the rights granted by the Second Amendment (which, by the way, was ratified in 1791).

I personally support Everytown For Gun Safety for their multi-pronged work in education & awareness through their Support Fund and advocacy & legislation through their Action Fund and encourage you to do the same—or share other great organizations doing this work in the comments.

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