One of the coolest, smartest people I've ever met was shot and killed outside an office building in Phoenix last week. According to Slate and the Twitter handle @GunDeaths, Mark Hummels was just one of 1,545 people shot and killed since a gunman murdered 20 first graders and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012.
1,545 is America's (unofficial) "number." What's yours?
Dr. Roger E. Hartley, a professor of Political Science at Western Carolina University, posed this question in a blog he wrote about Mark Hummels on Friday.
Hartley happens to be one of Mark's good friends. Hartley told me that after he heard about Mark's death he started listing the names of the people he's known who have been wounded or killed by guns. Dr. Hartley campaigned for Gabby Giffords, so he names her among the victims he knows. When he started writing the blog, Dr. Hartley's "number" was nine: nine people he knew who'd been shot or killed. He remembered more as he wrote. When I talked to him Monday, he said it was up to 13. People kept contacting him with more names.
Dr. Hartley says a former student saw the blog and emailed his own number: 82.
I asked Dr. Hartley if the "number" is important. He said, "God, yeah it's important." Relatives have revealed their gun stories to him. A man Hartley calls a "distinguished scholar" confessed he was shot at himself, but never told anyone outside of his immediate family. In fact, he still doesn't want to talk about it publicly.
In the wake of Mark Hummels' murder, his circle of friends is trying to figure out how to express this loss and how to connect on a bigger scale. People touched by AIDS can contribute to the AIDS Quilt. People touched by breast cancer wear pink ribbons or walk in annual events. Dr. Hartley is asking anyone touched by gun violence to simply post their "number."
This isn't about your politics or your stance on gun legislation. It's about your experience. What's your "number"? Maybe your "number" will help create sane, meaningful change.
Mark Hummels is survived by his wife and two young children and the dozens, possibly hundreds, of people who called him "friend." He'll be remembered at a memorial service Tuesday at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, Arizona.