Gun Disease

The number-one killer of teens is turning out to be other teens.

Our kids are killing each other and we don't seem to care. Actually, the problem is that other people's kids are killing each other and it's so darned annoying that they keep putting it on the TV news the night it happens and then moving on to other, fluffier stories until it happens again to somebody else's kid. We're shocked, but then we get over it by the time Leno is halfway through his monologue.

We as a society have somehow allowed things to degenerate to the point that kids drive around with guns in their cars. For a variety of reasons, these kids have never gained the ability to communicate, the willingness to compromise or the strength to turn around and walk away. They've seen too many movies and not enough of their parents. They mistake tough-acting for tough, macho with strong, and somehow think it's perfectly OK to settle even the smallest disagreement with deadly force.

The most recent victim of this vulgar trend was Zachary Zazueta, just a few months out of high school and full of plans and dreams. His death got a little bit extra ink because, through an incredible stroke of bad luck, the morning paper ran a pre-printed article on Zazueta and his rap group, III Grand, the same day that he was shot to death leaving a party.

The events follow a horribly familiar pattern. Some kids throw a party. Some other kids find out about the party and decide to stop by. Maybe they can score some free booze, maybe they can hit on some women. Or maybe they can pick a fight with the chumps that are just trying to have some fun with their friends. Then they can take it outside and see what's up.

By all accounts, Zazueta saw what was brewing and decided to take off before things got bad. He was shot as he drove away and died in his car about a half-block away from the party. Apparently, there were several eyewitnesses to the shooting, but none has come forward.

But as tragic as Zazueta's death is, it's really just another name on a list. In May of 1998, Brian Anthony Calderon was at a Cholla High School graduation party when he got in a minor argument over a girl. The other guy invited him to step outside, and when Calderon did, he was shot dead.

Robert Manning was an 18-year-old Palo Verde High School senior. He had been beaten up badly by a gang member a year earlier. On October 18, 1997, he walked into a party, saw the guy who had beaten him up and turned to leave. He was shot to death with hollow-point bullets.

And then there was Trampus Kring, a Marana High grad who was celebrating his 20th birthday at his mother's house in Avra Valley. He was already married and he and his wife had a kid. He was going to be a firefighter and dreamed of being a rodeo champion. But when he tried to turn away some party crashers at his door, his birthday party ended with his death. The crashers also shot Trampus' stepfather, who, oddly enough, was also celebrating a birthday that day.

These are but some of the names on the ever-growing list, victims of a culture gone mad, where guns are easier to get than condoms and reason has been supplanted with rage.

It should be noted that the killers of Calderon, Kring and Manning are all behind bars, but so what? The justice system is so screwed up that none of them was convicted of first-degree murder, even though the act of walking into a party with a loaded gun and looking for somebody to mess with certainly seems to meet the standards of premeditation for me. Should we as a community be satisfied that these guys will all be grabbing their ankles for the next 10 to 20 years or should we be ashamed that we let things get this bad?

A friend of mine said that she was going to call the Daily Star and try to get them to write about it. I joked that they could get Bonnie Henry to write a nostalgia piece about the good old days when punks used to kill each other with knives. One upside was that it was virtually impossible to do a drive-by stabbing.

Then I thought about it. In the really good old days, guys would talk a little mess and if they happened to run out of words, they'd settle things with their fists. One guy would get a bruised knuckle and the other would end up with a split lip. Then they'd both walk away--alive!--with wounds to lick and exaggerations to concoct. And if it's too much of a cliché to think that they'd shake hands and part as friends, at least they'd have an appreciation for what it takes to go toe-to-toe and they might mature a bit and try to avoid falling into a similar situation the next time.

I don't condone fighting. In fact, I preach against it every chance I get with my own kids, as well as to those whom I coach, tutor and teach. Fighting is all quite stupid, but at least it takes some stones to put your hands on somebody, to feel their anger, to test your ability to set aside your fears.

It takes no courage to fire a gun. Indeed, it has been my experience that (outside of warfare) courage and guns are mutually exclusive.

My son asked me a couple years back why I had never owned a gun. I told him that I would rather have a penis.

The distinction is often made between being involved and being committed. In a bacon-and-eggs breakfast, the chicken was involved but the pig was committed. As long as we continue to blithely allow our community's young people to slaughter each other, we're neither involved nor committed. But we are responsible.