It was swift and cowardly.
Defenseless, distracted by music, Alex sat in the passenger seat of the rental as I made my way to the trunk. I remembered Frankie’s words: “It’s loaded, cocked, and the safety is off. All you have to do is pull the trigger.”
At that point in our lives, Alex and I, both in our early twenties, were gun-toting thugs immersed in gangster culture. We were out on bail for separate gun charges. A few years before, Alex had been acquitted of murder for allegedly shooting a woman through the peephole of a Brooklyn housing project door. After that, his reputation preceded him.
On that night I knew Alex had been extorting a man who sold drugs for me. It sounds sick but part of me aspired to murder because it’s considered an accomplishment in gangster culture -- it would enhance my reputation, complete my image. Yet another part of me knew this culture was foul and murder was horrible.
Despite the Xanax dulling my emotions, my heart pounded when I picked up the M-16. A surge of power rushed through me when I felt the trigger. I pointed in the driver’s side window ... and squeezed.
Arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to a jarring 28 years to life at Attica, I entered prison. For many years I sifted through a host of rationalizations, but today I accept responsibility. I’m sorry for killing Alex, sorry for taking all the life he could have had.
With this in mind, I wish to add some perspective to the gun-control debate. My first gun was a chrome .25 caliber automatic with a pink, pearl handle. It was beautiful. But it was a killing machine, and at 14 years old I had the same hole in my heart that President Obama, in a Chicago speech, stated other child killers had. I had no business with that gun. Yet making guns accessible to troubled souls is business as usual in America.
Here’s how the game works. Criminals manipulate people with clean records -- cash-strapped students, vulnerable women, drug addicts -- to buy guns for them in states with minimal oversight, like Virginia. The criminal transports the guns to New York, then resells them or trades them for drugs that he’ll take back to Virginia to sell. This was the hustle when I was out in the ‘90s. I’m sure some form of it still continues.
However, since the Senate -- the most undemocratic aspect of our government -- halted gun legislation in April, the nation has moved on. But the shootings and killings in the world I know have continued and will continue unless we refocus on the root of the problem: our gun culture, and the easy access it affords criminals. Background checks for killing machines cannot be rudimentary, where criminals know every step -- the rules of the game I describe have to change.
Disconnected Senator Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, says, “Criminals do not submit to background checks now. They will not submit to expanded background checks.” Grassley’s full-scale alternative gun measures, which focused on funding prosecutions for illegal gun possessions rather than background checks, helped derail the legislation in April. Aggressive prosecutions are punishment measures that, frankly, do not deter criminals from acquiring, possessing, or killing with guns. Conversely, intensifying background checks will change the game and spook those who buy guns for criminals. This will deter so-called straw purchases.