Open letter to a gunman


Ten dead. Many more injured. A 26 year old gunman killed by police after he opened fire in a writing class at Umpqua Community College. It happened about an hour and a half north of me in driving time.

I teach at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, Oregon.

Dear Gunman,

We talk about verifiable truth because we believe that truth is the only way to be set free. We believe that together problems can be solved if we know about them.

You, gunman, are a problem. You are most likely a disenfranchised and lonely, young guy who has no way to express yourself and who is powerfully angry about why you feel your life is not working. You are sad beyond measure and hoping someone will see you. You are losing your mind and you don’t know what to do but you know a lot about guns and how to get them. You are so desperate you’re thinking this gun may represent a solution because you can get your anger out of the way and be known and seen at the same time. You are terribly wrong. You will die painfully and alone. You will take the lives of other young people who often feel just the way you do and as collateral damage you will take the life of someone like me who just wants to help you find yourself and be happy.

Sadly, you are enabled to do this awful thing you don’t really want to do and hope someone will stop you from doing by a culture who refuses to wake up to the basic facts about the proliferation of guns in our nation:

more than 300 thousand people die from guns as opposed to some three hundred from supposed terrorists.

You drank in the poison served to you because you were trying to be cooperative and nice. You listened when you were told it’s okay to hate people not like you, it was your “right” to have a violent piece of machinery aimed at killing the most people quickly and that you could not talk about how you feel because men don’t do that. You silently prayed for help but it didn’t come because the God you were taught to worship is one of fear. Your future slips away in an economy which rewards greed and not hard work.  Even if you had the tools to express your feelings, you can’t because everyone is on their cell on-line but not with you. You have not been hugged in years. This is the way of your reality.

You are dying anyway, might as well have it on your terms.

I am asking you, pleading with you not to do this. I am a teacher at a University and I love my job of getting to know young guys like you, of talking about anything, everything– nothing. We don’t have to argue about the Second Amendment but I’d love to chat about the First One that let’s me say these things.

I am being told I should consider carrying a gun. I won’t do it, I can’t do it. I don’t believe in shooting people–not even people who might shoot me. I have been told this makes me stupid and weak. I don’t think so, but I won’t argue about that anymore. I believe in love and peace enough to die for it if that’s how it goes. I know that one thing about me to be true.

Mostly, gunman, I am asking you to consider for one minute the students who take my class and all the classes–the kindergartners and college students–because they represent the future. I know you want to kill them because you want to kill the future–the future you don’t think you have. I know that hurts you every day. But if you understand that you do have a future you could re-consider.

Don’t believe the people who say you have to have certain things to be happy or okay. You don’t. You just need you and the will and courage to try one more day. You just need to know that sometimes you’ll feel horrible but if you ride it out–other days you’ll feel good again. Your future may not include a big job or house or beautiful girl or partner but it may include a really nice walk with birds everywhere and one day you may stop and actually hear them. You may fall asleep on a sunny patch of grass and wake up stretching and be glad your body works as well as it does. You may see someone and think, I’d like to help that person and your entire world will open up to you in that one thought.

Dear gunman, you are dear. You are filled with rage and despair and you need help right now because you’re deeply confused. You should not have access to that gun because you and I both know it’s a bad idea. Still, you are the child of someone who loves you however well or badly, you are a person who smiles and cries and hopes even in the blackness that consumes you.

If you come for me one night in my classroom I am hoping to do something impossible, something I have no idea if I can do. I am hoping I will not meet you with force or hatred. I am intending that I will understand that all of us, all Americans, made you in some way.

With deep resolve let’s promise to wrestle fear and anger and know if it’s the last thing you ever thought you could know– you will discover you are loved. Also, I ask you one favor, please let my class empty out before you fire that gun you don’t really want to fire.

Gunman, I will not stop teaching and I will never carry a gun. What’s been said here is true. It’s hard to remember when things feel as if they unraveling and when fear and anger threaten to take us apart but struggling to remember it does not make it less true that you are loved and that you actually are love as well.

Thinking of you, a gunman, makes me really scared. No one wants to leave their family missing them but that applies to you too if you really think about it.

This may all sound too simple to you but it’s really not. I do not believe that hate or fear will ever conquer fear or hate. I do believe only love does that. You are strong enough in rage to consider shooting people–can you be courageous enough to love?

Thank you,

Julie Akins, Teacher


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