Friday, February 1, 2013

Reflections on Mark Hummels, Tucson and Gun Violence

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2013 at 4:45 PM

Roger E. Hartley, a former UA professor of public policy, remembers attorney Mark Hummels, who died this week after being shot in Phoenix:

I was offered a chance to write today in the wake of the death of my friend, Mark Hummels, after he was taken from us in the tragic shooting this week in Phoenix. Like all of us who experience loss or just hear about it, we quickly find our empathy, we find kindness in others, we work through what we are charged to do, and reflect. As I put paper to pen…or pixels to pixels…I’m left considering what I should tell you about my friend in this rare opportunity to write and, as I reflect on Mark, my time in Tucson, and on gun violence. Before I go on, I have to say that for anyone who reads this that knew Mark and loved him and his family, I can only guess how much you are hurting. I hope that nothing I say today hurts you more. I am devastated for Mark’s wife Dana, and his children, whom he deeply loved. I am devastated for each of you who knew him and who are hurting right now. But I have come to learn that so many of us find our empathy quickly because so many of us have been there.

My wife and I met Mark and Dana in 2001 when we moved from out east to Tucson. We left our families behind and knew virtually no one in Arizona. We stayed until 2010. Some of you know that I served the University of Arizona as a professor from 2001 to 2010. I met so many people and learned so much from my time in Arizona. I left for a lot of reasons but most of all to raise my boy in Appalachia and be closer to my family. I also left because I felt a bit out of place after 10 years…professionally and personally. When I left, I wasn’t sure I would come back. I haven’t been back. Like a lot of men, I just left, kept in touch with some, and tried hard to keep from missing people as I took on my new life with every bit of enthusiasm I could. For my wife, Melissa…well she missed Tucson the day she left. I tried hard not to think much about Tucson probably because I knew I would miss it. Things just keep dragging me back and sadly it has been a series of tragedies culminating in Mark’s death just yesterday.

First, on Mark. Mark was in my wife’s law school class. They hit it off..and he and I did. Our families spent a lot of time together and so did he and I. I’ve never met anyone like him. So brilliant, so serious about his work, so driven, so motivated, but all of that was wrapped into a quirky, truly unusual person. You would never know that Mark was a prestigious attorney of journalist if you met him outside the office. If you have read the news about his passing you now know that he grew up in Greeley, Colorado, attended Colorado College, Cal-Berkeley for journalism school, and lived in Santa Fe, NM working as a reporter. He left journalism for law school at Arizona. He loved it. He loved ideas, he loved the work, and was competitive. He graduated number 1 in his class and later passed the bar with the highest score. The photos of him are in a tie, at a very prestigious law firm in Phoenix. Those things were him to some degree as our work and passions are a part of all of us. What people will not know is that Mark eagerly rode a unicycle… with off-road tires…sometimes while juggling. He enjoyed infomercials and bought stuff that people just don’t buy off TV like Ronko knives. You might have seen him on a beach in Mexico with a giant grasshopper tattoo on his arm, or as I did one weekend, playing with his children while wearing a Santos mask. He took every piece of life that was offered to him and squeezed every drop from it. He liked to play. Mark gravitated to people no matter what the station of life or background. I think he preferred the company of ordinary people. He was infectious and when I had the opportunity to see him, I knew that it would be an adventure. He would have loved the my new, odd, city of Asheville with its craft beers, drum circle, and trippy people. One of the things I will always regret is that hat is that he never got to see it.

While in Tucson our families became close, and after he graduated and moved to his law practice Phoenix we saw him a little less, but an odd ball group of us transplants with families so far away would every year spend our “Thanksgiving in exile” in beautiful Sonora, Mexico. I am shocked that he is gone and never in a million years that my first time back to Arizona would be a result of this agonizing event.

Mark’s ability to meet and talk to anyone is the best transition I can come up with for where I want to take you now. My reflections on Arizona and Mark will forever linked to my journey and evolving perspective on gun violence. I noted that tragedies keep bringing my thoughts back to you all. I will never forget that Saturday morning when my wife and I heard NPR mistakenly report that Gabby Giffords had been killed, and of that senseless tragedy. I worked on both of her campaigns, got to know her along the way, and her staff. Several of my students over the years worked for her. I remember Judge Roll who had spoken in my class and who had helped with our efforts to select judges. I had a beer once with Congressman Ron Barber. All are people that I admired when in Tucson and admire more each day as I read about their work. At the time of that tragedy, I was pulled back to Tucson and shared in the grief that your entire community was experiencing. After that shooting and after a promising student of mine took his life, I started thinking about gun violence and reform. Then Newtown. About a week ago, after weeks of talking about gun control and forming my arguments, I wrote my first public op-ed for the Asheville Citizen-Times on gun laws in North Carolina. And now a week later, and so surreal, Mark, of all people, is gone.

After learning of the shooting yesterday, and that Mark was hit, I started thinking, amazingly at all the people I have talked to in my life that had been victims of gun violence. Two suicides, my brother wounded in Iraq, Gabby, Judge Roll, Ron Barber…thats six….my grandmother’s neighbor who tragically died when he dropped a loaded shotgun, a cousin that was murdered, and now Mark. That’s 9. My colleague down the hall came to visit with me and I told her that I have known 9 people touched by a bullet. My colleague is from Israel. She told me that after having served in the Israeli military, her number was 0, thankfully. And we talked more about how attitudes about guns and gun ownership are so very different here. As a social scientist, I thought about the question I asked her, and myself, and wondered how could I know this many people? What are other people’s number? So I got on Facebook, told my friends of Mark and simply asked. Without politics or judgment, please post how many people you have (talked to or known) that have been a victim of gun violence (suicide, accidental, murder…etc)? Hardly scientific…hardly social science, but what I’ve been reading is sobering and horrible. As of this moment there have been over 60 posts expressing condolences and person after person recounting their numbers. To go back and scroll up and down and read them is astounding. That much pain. That much sorrow. That many people touched. More awakening was the several people that told me that they had been personally shot. I didn’t even know it. As of this moment, my number is no longer 9, but it is 12. One person is a former student that confessed to having several bullets still in her body and one in her head. I guess it is just not something we talk about, is it? It’s not something we ask people about. We all feel empathy when someone we don’t know is shot. We find reasons or excuses for why it happened. The person was crazy or a criminal, or was desperate. We look to god, fate or chance and we all hope that it will never be someone that we love. Yet in a short day after a FaceBook post, I’ve learned that a lot of people I know have known, loved, or just talked to a person who was harmed or even died of gun violence.

At another time, I’ll talk policy. I’m one of those people, like Mark, that just has to talk to people and I am one of those people for good or bad that just has to do something. I am somewhat ashamed that it has taken me this long. I was once a person that made the very same arguments that gun proponents do today. I hunted once, shot birds, and was even a bit careless with weapons as a boy in West Virginia. It is just part of life in our country and it was especially where I grew up. Shootings are just terrible things that happen. Guns are in the fabric of our nation…our culture…but on my journey and in my conversations over the years, I see how much gun violence is also in the fabric of our nation. And it is woven deep. I’d like to talk more about Mark right now. I’d like to tell you what a loss this shooting is for so many of us. But it’s clear that you know that because you all know people suffering or have suffered yourself. I want to end by asking you to search your memory for a few hours. What is your number? I’d also encourage you to talk about your experiences with others. If guns and gun violence are in the fabric of our nation, then I would suggest strongly that it IS something that we can talk about. Thank you so much to the over 60 people so far who have shared with me their number and who have taken the time to reflect and those who have called or written directly to talk. And to all of you in Tucson…you are a very special place with very special people, I wonder if I will ever come back or not, but it is quite, quite, apparent to me now that I can never leave you.

Dr. Roger E. Hartley lives in Asheville, North Carolina. He is Director of the Master of Public Affairs program at Western Carolina University and is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Public Affairs.

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