Two years after his mother was shot and killed, Dallas Sonnier received a phone call from the police: His father had just been shot and killed.
Sonnier’s parents had divorced long before. That both were murdered was sheer coincidence — as if gun violence in America isn’t common enough to strike one family twice.
On July 12, 2010, Juan Gallegos, 62, the new husband of Sonnier’s mother, Becky J. Gallegos, 55, fired two bullets into her chest, then turned the gun on himself.
On July 11, 2012, police discovered the body of Sonnier’s father, Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, inside his Lubbock, Texas, home. Dr. Sonnier, 57, was the much-loved chief pathologist for the Covenant Health Systems. Days later, police arrested another doctor, Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon, the ex-lover of Dr. Sonnier’s girlfriend. He paid a hit man $9,000 in silver bars to break into Sonnier’s home and shoot him. Dixon provided the gun.
Dallas Sonnier, 32, is now an L.A.-based film producer. Tall, trim and soft-spoken, he’s a reminder that gun violence is ubiquitous and random. He told me his story over mimosas at a benefit for Women Against Gun Violence last Sunday afternoon, May 19. The story would likely be considered too far-fetched to be believed — if you didn’t know anything about America’s self-inflicted plague of gun violence.
“I’m just kind of coming out of it now,” Sonnier told me. “To see how I can make a difference.”
Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators, two things have happened: 1) The United States Senate voted against passing a bill that would, along with a handful of limited, thoughtful gun control measures, have instituted universal background checks for all gun purchases, and, 2) more than 4,266 more Americans have been killed by guns. Wait, a third thing has happened: Washington and the 24-hour media monster have become consumed with a series of scandals — Benghazi, the Associated Press, the IRS. Politicians and pundits are frothing to express their outrage as they pound the president against the ropes.
It’s certainly true that the press and Congress should investigate wrongdoings in the executive branch — the digging into reporters’ phone records is particularly worrisome.
But between the media’s desire for dramatic headlines — Scandal! — and partisan hacks looking, since 2008, for any and every reason to take down this president, what happens is those stories become the only story. The more difficult problems, the less black-and-white issues — in other words, the Things This Country Really Needs — get shoved aside.
So immigration, sequestration, health care, jobs, Syria and, yes, gun control, all fell off the agenda.
To me, that’s the outrage.
At the Women Against Gun Violence event, I just got angrier.
Patricia Maisch and Daniel Hernandez Jr., two survivors of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that claimed six lives and badly wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, spoke about how 16 seconds damaged the lives not just of the victims, but of their friends and loved ones.
“Every shooting has a ripple effect,” Hernandez said.
Hernandez was the last person to see 9-year-old Christina Green alive that day. That turned him into an activist.
“I’m not anti-gun,” he said, “I’m pro-common sense.”
The problem, of course, is that common sense is often trumped by passion and extremism, which is what fuels the minority of Americans who opposed the Senate background checks bill. The leadership of the National Rifle Association and its hard-core zombie army can still turn senators into hand puppets.
But the diversity of both the honorees and audience at Sunday’s event indicate, perhaps, that the tide has turned. The honorees ranged from Hernandez and Maisch to Ralphs Grocery Co., which funds a gun-buyback program; to Juliet Leftwich, an attorney who left a lucrative law practice to work for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; to my own parents, Sari and Aaron Eshman. My parents, thank God, haven’t been touched by gun violence, but, like the 90 percent of Americans who supported the bill the Senate voted against, they’ve had enough, they’re mad as hell and have become active in the cause.
The audience was just as diverse: LAPD officers in uniform, South L.A. activists, Westside philanthropists and that film producer from Texas. If violence ripples outward like the rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, so does outrage.
Would such legislation have prevented the murders of Sonnier’s parents? Probably.
Sonnier told me that his mother’s husband had entered a paranoid tailspin in the year before the murder. Police found 100 guns on his property. He had purchased five to 10 each month in the year before he used one to kill Sonnier’s mother.
Common-sense federal legislation could limit the number of guns a single person could buy in a year, or tip off authorities when so many purchases are made. Common-sense legislation would require background checks on purchases made at gun shows or between private parties — something federal law doesn’t require today. The senators who stand in the way need to hear from you, today.
Washington is so caught up in scandal hunting, it has dropped the ball on these issues. To my mind, that’s the biggest scandal of them all.
Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.