UPPER MARLBORO, MARYLAND—
The shooting deaths of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, in December ignited a heated debate in the U.S. Congress over reviewing the nation’s gun laws. As advocates and politicians on both sides wrangle over whether or not to tighten gun control measures in the U.S., families of shooting victims speak about the emotional cost of gun violence in America.
Oliver Smith’s son was a police officer, shot execution style by three men during a robbery.
He’s meeting with the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center
to write his victim's impact statement for one of the men’s appeals.
The walls in this room are a testament to victims of past crimes, including Oliver Smith, Jr.
Young and old, they are a handful of the 30,000 people who die from gun violence in the United States every year.
Smith said that for surviving families of gun violence, there is just no such thing as “closure.”
“How do I put ‘closure’ on my son? The best thing we can hope for is how to get through this, not over it. The three men, they’re in jail, but we’re incarcerated right along with them,” he said.
Russell Butler, who heads the center, said gun violence affects families on a material level because a family may lose its sole bread winner, or face legal bills.
But the biggest impact to their lives, he said, is the emotional one.
“I think it’s the depression. I think it’s the mental health issues. Normally, children bury their parents. So in a case like Oliver, you have a parent burying a child and not for some disease, but for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Butler.
Nadyne Jeffries’ 16-year-old daughter, Brishel, also was in the wrong place at the wrong time in 2010.
She was killed with an AK-47 assault rifle in a gang-related shooting in Washington that left three people dead and nine injured.
“She was such a pretty child,” she said.
Jeffries bristles at what she said is lack of action on gun control.
“I just feel like the government has ignored so much that, had things been done differently years ago, that could have saved Brishel and other victims. It could have saved the children at Newtown, it could have saved people you don’t even hear stories about,” said Jeffries.
“That’s my baby boy. Oliver Wendell Smith Junior,” said Smith pointing to a photo of his son on the wall.
Smith now helps other parents cope with the loss of their children. He grieves every time there’s another shooting. But he focuses on the here-and-now, and keeps his son’s memories alive for his grandson.
“I have a lot of things saved for him. He’s 21 years old now. And when he’s ready I’ll sit down and I’ll talk about the career - the short career - that his father had and the man that his father is.”
Beyond the emotional toll, there is a material price of gun violence in America.
A report last year from Johns Hopkins University said the cost in terms of lost productivity and medical expenses, alone, was nearly $32 billion a year.