An everyday American tragedy

malcom winfellMalcom Winfell was an everyday hero. The 44 year old father of two was a guy who tried to do the right thing in the wrong place and ended up paying for his actions with his life.

Two weeks ago during lunchtime in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Bethesda, Maryland, he and a friend ran to help a woman who’d been shot in an apparent car-jacking. Winfell ended up getting shot himself and dying.

A short time after, a 65 year old woman who was sitting in her car in a nearby supermarket was attacked and killed by the same gunman. He had also murdered his ex-wife outside a high school the previous day.

I was reminded of Malcom Winfell’s death yesterday while running, as I glimpsed the makeshift memorial of flowers and stuffed toys, which marks the spot where he was gunned down. It’s about a thirty minute slow jog from there to my home.

These kind of violent incidents are a part of daily life in the US, and their frequency has an anesthetizing effect. Maybe Malcom Winfell’s death would have passed me by without notice, had it not brushed close to my little corner of the world.

After the gunman had shot Malcom Winfell and was en-route to his next killing, the schools in the vicinity – including the one my daughters attend – imposed a ‘shelter in place’ order. That meant the building was locked down with no comings or goings, until the all clear had been given.

Apart from relief when the incident had passed, I felt – and continue to feel- angry that such a thing could happen. I was infuriated and that my children along with others were forced to shelter because of the madness that allows anyone to get guns with as much ease as library books. This reality means that my daughters have to undergo routine drills which include hiding in closets or getting under their desks and remaining silent, in case of a rampaging armed lunatic.

For me the ultimate culprits of this situation in which thousands die and millions live in fear are the gun lobby, and the spineless politicians in Washington who do its bidding.

I find myself comparing the situation in the US, with Israel where we used to live, and which also has an over-abundance of weapons along with a heightened awareness of security. At the school my daughters attended, there were also security drills, which included them heading down to an underground concrete shelter when an alarm sounded.

This was in case of missile attack from Gaza, Lebanon or further afield. As a parent it was a terrible scenario to contemplate. The first time my wife saw my elder daughter – then aged 3 – wandering hand in hand with her classmates into the shelter, she was reduced to anxious tears.

But I rationalized this reality, and the presence of guns, seeing it as based upon the intractable conflict between Israel and its neighbors.

By contrast, in the US the security situation exists because of the domestic gun industry’s appetite for profit and its selective interpretation of a line from the Constitution. I know of many, many people here who vehemently oppose the proliferation of weapons but who have become fatalistic and impotent in the face of the National Rifle’s Association’s bullying power.

The gun lobby is cynical in exploiting and fueling people’s anxieties about safety. Every time there is yet another massacre of innocents even more weapons are sold. To the lobbyists even more deadly weapons are the answer the scourge of killings wrought by those same guns. Some are now calling for armed guards at all schools, and for teachers to be able to have weapons.

There is a madness to this which I can’t understand and to which too many in the US remain oblivious. People here are no more intrinsically homicidal than others elsewhere. Yet, thanks to the ready availability of guns, the USA has the highest murder rate in the advanced industrialized world.

Last year, I got into a discussion with a gun owner in Vermont, who insisted that such figures were lies, and those who were dying were mostly criminals. For this man, keeping his armory of weapons was a right to be defended at the barrel of a gun.

I grew up in a country – the UK – where most policemen are unarmed, and almost every gun death induces a newspaper headline. That should be the norm everywhere, not a situation in which guns are sanctified.

I understand that weapons occupy a particular place in American society and culture. But that must not mean gun violence becomes a normal part of everyday life.

I can only hope that greater sanity and sense come to bear on this issue to stem the seemingly endless bloodshed.

Tragically, I doubt that will happen any time soon – if ever, but if it does, it will have come far too late for hundreds of thousands of people – including the family of Malcom Winffel.

A fund has been set up to pay for Malcom Winffel’s funeral expenses and to contribute towards his children’s education. For further details go to:

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