Writing Guild

Joy Hellard

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it. But what if it’s so broken, that people feel powerless to fix it? Not “my car won’t start” broken or even “my best friend lied to me” broken. A brokenness which makes people jump in grocery stores when a jar crashes to the floor, startle at concerts when pyrotechnics explode, or stare suspiciously at unfamiliar faces in their houses of worship. Jan. 8, 2020, was the anniversary of the tragic shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in a Safeway parking lot in Tucson. In the aftermath, witnesses stated the personality of the gunman was erratic and frightening. He was even suspended from the Pima Community College for bizarre behavior. Despite these warning signs, he legally purchased a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol. The morning of Jan. 8, 2011, after running a red light and being pulled over by an officer, Jared Loughner was released because none of these previous infractions appeared on his record. Taking a taxi to the Casas Adobes Plaza, he shattered the lives and the illusion of safety of Tucsonans. This man’s irrational actions, like ripples on the surface of a pond, spread fear and forever altered the lives of people like Patricia Maisch, a survivor of the Giffords’ shooting.

On that January morning, Patricia endured one of the longest moments of her life. In less than 30 seconds, bullets sprayed randomly as the gunman worked his way through the gathered crowd. People hurled themselves on the ground to survive; yet, the firing continued. Loughner ran out of ammunition just as the man next to Patricia was struck three times. As he fumbled to reload, two men wrestled his pistol away. When his ammunition fell to the pavement, Patricia crawled to cover the gun’s magazine with her own body. In this chaos, police sirens wailed, people screamed, and blood stained a Tucson sidewalk. This horrific incident is not isolated to just this day, this shopping center, or Arizona. In 1988, I also experienced the terror of a gun legally purchased by an unstable person.

Driving into the garage that night, my car’s headlights dimly lit its interior. As I opened the door, a voice in the darkness stated, “God just told me we need to be together.” Terrified, I saw my estranged husband pointing a gun at me. Throwing the car in reverse and careening backwards down the unlit driveway, my entire body listened for the sound of gunfire. Covered in cold sweat, I reached my friend’s house, where I called the sheriff’s office. The Mississippi officer drawled, “Lady, when he shoots you, call us back.” Yes, some things are definitely broken in our society. We may choose to ignore this brokenness. We may choose to blame others. Or, we can find the courage and personal commitment to mend what is broken. Just like Patricia Maisch, the Parkland students, El Paso citizens, the parents of Sandy Hook, and countless others, I have chosen to be part of the solution.