Guns and Grief

AP Photo/Marina Riker, File

A while back, I wrote about the shady actions of one of the writers at The Trace. That same writer basically tried to cover for the ATF in a different piece.

The writer’s name is Alain Stephens and, of course, he writes at The Trace.


The Trace tries to present itself as a journalistic organization, and Stephens presents himself as a journalist. But Stephens is anything but a neutral observer. That’s clear from some of his previous work, but now we have an inkling as to why he’s this way.

On Monday, February 25th, 2008, my dad took his own life. He was 50 years old. I was just 21. He never showed any signs of depression, addiction, or mental illness. And to this day, I still really don’t know why.

I was the one who found him. I called the police that day, and when they arrived, there were no condolences offered, no words of comfort. In fact, they’d sprawl me alongside a patrol car, frisk me for weapons, and make me sign an affidavit of what I’d seen. To them, I was merely a bystander.

Edris told me the day is a blur in her memory, but she remembers seeing the side of my head first that day: “I could tell by your posture, that you were broken, and it broke me.” When she finally saw my face, she remembered a look of “just utter shock and disbelief.”

For every person torn away from this planet because of gun violence, a multitude of people are left behind, trying to figure out exactly what to do. In the course of reporting this show, I met other Americans reckoning with the unpredictable trajectory of loss.


He’s not wrong here. Anyone who loses someone they care about to any form of violence find themselves trying to figure out what to do, how to go on.

And I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose one’s father to something like suicide. As I approach the one year anniversary of my father’s death, I can’t even imagine what it must be like to lose a parent to something other than natural causes.

Stephens and I are never likely to be friends, but I can feel awful for him and that he had to go through that.

However, there’s more.

For me, that led to becoming a journalist. Trying to make sense of the senseless.

Trying to understand why we as a leading developed country stand as an anomaly in domestic death.

And fighting to unravel the story of guns in America. In my time covering this beat, I’ve come to see more clearly how they’re shrouded in myth, marketing, and politics that prevents us from understanding how to solve the problem of gun violence.

First, as for Stephens being a journalist, I beg to differ. He’s an activist. This piece stands as a testimony as to why he’s an activist, but he’s still an activist just the same. The links at the top of this piece illustrate just how much of an activist he is.

Further, this dedication to pretending America stands as some great anomaly simply because of guns that we see in this second paragraph.


As he started down this road due to his father’s suicide, perhaps he’d be shocked to learn that Japan’s suicide rate is more than twice the rate in the US, all despite having incredibly strict gun control laws. (Interestingly, Germany’s is higher as well, also with strict gun control.)

Despite his career as a supposed journalist looking at the issue of violence in America, he’s never reckoned with the fact that our non-gun homicide rate is greater than many developed nations’ total homicide rate. Including Japan’s, for what it’s worth.

I won’t argue that we’ve got a problem, but if our non-gun homicide rather is higher than the total rate in other high-income nations, then maybe the problem lies somewhere other than guns.

Now, Stephens is right that guns are “shrouded” in a lot of ways, but he doesn’t get a pass for his role in shrouding them. If he is, in fact, a journalist, then he should be working to get to the truth. That should have let him see all of these facts and present them in a neutral, unbiased way.

He did not.

Maybe it’s because the tragedy of losing his father 15 years ago is still too fresh. I don’t know. I’m sure that has played a role.

But tragedy doesn’t mean you must go down that particular road. Gun control isn’t the only potential answer to grief.


Believe me, I know. So does our own Ryan Petty, who lost his daughter in the Parkland shooting.

What that grief did, at least for me, was make me question my beliefs for half a heartbeat, but the truth was still the truth. It didn’t change because some psychopath flipped out because his favorite coffee shop wouldn’t serve him anymore due to his past behavior.

It wouldn’t have justified me lying to someone to land an interview that I’d then use to present him and the company in an anti-gun light. It wouldn’t have justified me breaking basic journalistic principles like that.

Grief is real and no one can tell you how to grieve. We can tell you that the rules don’t change just because you’re grieving.

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