December 09, 2023

COLUMN: It got closer

My wife shared a Facebook post last week from one of her aunts. Her cousin was found murdered in his car that was in a Denver-suburb mall parking lot.

Of course I feel terrible for another unnecessary death by guns in this country. I never knew the cousin, let alone met him. I really didn’t know what to feel other than “that” issue got closer to me. His wallet, phone and camera were still with him when the body was found. That seems strange to me. Law enforcement have no suspects as they call it a random shooting. That’s all I know.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard goes like this. “The closer you are to the field, the harder the game is to play.” A radio broadcaster of the Kansas City Royals said that during a Rotary meeting I attended years ago in Kansas.

I, again, got closer to violent death.

I don’t do anything with guns that equates to a hobby. I have never hunted. I have never done competitive target shooting. I know people who have done, or do, both and have no problem with that. I know people who are responsible with guns. I have nothing against guns. I just don’t have any interest.

My exposure to guns has been through my work.

I covered a pre-teen child who shot and killed both his parents. I knew the family. It was not at “best friend” like level, but there was acknowledgement of each other when we met in store aisles. That was the last time I felt like I did last week.

I have covered another gun-involved murder trials.

One of the reasons I enjoy living in southwest Iowa is its minimal violent-crime activity. Yes, the murder trial I just mentioned was in Southwest Iowa. The CNA covered a murder in summer 2021. Those kind of violent crimes don’t happen enough around here for me to get anxiety. The murders involved people who were already familiar with each other. Nothing random.

I’ve read various stories of relatives and friends of people who died in a mass shooting. It can change a person’s view on life as relatives and survivors learn how to live with it for the remainder of their lives. Those people can suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. Gun-related events bring anxiety, depression, or maybe moments of both to their lives as they continue to hear about other shooting incidents.

An internet search of support groups for relatives and survivors of shoting incidents shows several, which is encouraging. It’s also unfortunate. I know, it seems like a fantasyland that we can create legislation and procedure to think we can eliminate all such violence. At least there is some help for relatives and survivors.

The Uvalde County, Texas, school shooting in 2022 involved a 10-year-old girl who called 911 to tell dispatch what was happening. That is such a young, innocent age to be exposed to something that horrific. It will be fascinating to know if the girl is receiving any kind of counseling and how that moment will influence every aspect of the rest of her life.

The more we continue what we have and don’t make meaningful, effective and appropriate measures, the more we continue the risk of changing people’s lives, and maybe not for the better, starting in younger ages.

I want to be optimistic and think there can be some healthy, legitimate, civil discussions on ways we can try and make things better and safer. I will never expect our society to be free from such violent moments, but maybe there will be a day when we have reached agreements and concessions to have them happen at a much lesser frequency or severity.

Consider the efforts made in this country in 2014 to detect and isolate people with ebola, a contagious and deadly illness, entering the country. There was an ebola outbreak in Africa.

What more has to happen with unnecessary gun violence? There have been more than enough shooting incidents. That apparently hasn’t changed anything. Somebody has to make a comment in the right way to the right person or people at the right time to initiate the conversation to get to a better place. That’s a lot to ask for. That place is people still able to own weapons while mass shooting incidents decline.

Until then, we may all have the risk of getting closer to it. And no place is immune.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.