Skip to main content

A father's murder, a plea on gun control

By Roxanne Jones, Special to CNN
updated 10:50 AM EST, Fri January 18, 2013
The University of Texas- Austin clock tower shooter, 25-year-old Charles Joseph Whitman, killed 16 and wounded at least 30 people from his perch above the university grounds. The University of Texas- Austin clock tower shooter, 25-year-old Charles Joseph Whitman, killed 16 and wounded at least 30 people from his perch above the university grounds.
HIDE CAPTION
1966: Univ. of Texas tower
1981: Ronald Reagan assassination attempt
1991: Luby's cafeteria in Texas
1999: Columbine High School
2007: Virginia Tech University
2009: Fort Hood, Texas
2009: Binghamton, New York
2011: Tucson, Arizona, Safeway supermarket
2012: Aurora movie theater
2012: Sandy Hook Elementary School
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones says her father was shot to death in the 1970s
  • She says if leaders opposed to gun control saw victims, their perspective might change
  • She says she backs right to bear arms; Americans not so far apart on issue
  • Jones: Obama has started needed conversation; leaders must offer sensible solutions

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete" (Random House) and is CEO of Push Media Strategies and is working on her second book.

(CNN) -- My father was murdered. Shot down on the street in Philadelphia in the 70s.

I never had a chance to know him. His name was Edgar Leonard, and he was in his 20s when he was killed. My grandmother, his mother, fell apart after he died. He was her only child.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

But kids are curious, regardless of the pain their questions may cause grown-ups. I always wanted to know more about my father. My mother wasn't talking. So at 9 years old, I asked my grandmother to tell me about my dad. The first thing she did was show me photos of her son stretched out in his coffin with bullet holes in his head.

House Speaker John Boehner and those who support unrestricted gun rights should take a long look at photos like this -- or talk, just once, to mothers who've lost loved ones to gun violence -- before they utter one word about gun control laws. The experience doesn't have to change their position, but I guarantee it will help shape their perspectives and permit more intelligent conversations on the issue.

Staring at those photographs, I was horrified. I had nightmares for years about getting shot in the head myself, or what my father thought about as he was dying. My grandmother only saw the handsome, charismatic young man her son once was. Fortunately for me, I have since seen photos of him in happier times: as a chubby baby boy; smiling with his prom date. Who knew why my grandmother showed me. Maybe she wanted me to see the violence that took his life. Or what guns do when not used responsibly. I know she wanted the person who killed her son caught and punished. That didn't happen.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Coming from this tragic place has given me an awesome respect and healthy fear of guns. I know how one shot can change lives forever. In my 40-plus years, hardly a day has gone by that I haven't thought about my father and missed the man I never knew.

Opinion: Gun control is on all of us

I have lived in a city for the past 25 years, where always I assume anyone can be armed at any time in any place. And I grew up in Connecticut, where is it common to hear gunshots echoing through the woods and see a gutted deer carcass hanging from a tree draining blood.

Despite my father's violent death, I vigorously support our right to bear arms. Honestly, I've seen collector guns that are beautiful pieces of craftsmanship. And I'm quite convinced that if I ever felt my or my son's life was in danger, I'd use a gun to protect us both from harm. I pray that I will never have to make that decision.

Obama's gun plan and the NRA's ad
King: Obama gun orders a political move
White House calls NRA ad 'cowardly'

Guns are a part of my world. And it was the unanswered questions about my father's murder, in part, that drove me to become a journalist. I was determined to write about people like my father whose stories would never be told.

I've spoken to neighbors, athletes and colleagues, those who own guns and those who never have, about the gun issue, and all seem to fall in the middle. So, I don't quite buy the hard line we're told exists between those Americans for and against gun control. We are not as far apart as Congress or lobbyists would have us believe. None of the people I've spoken to think like gun-crazed NRA lobbyists or gun-hating liberals. Real life is never black and white.

The time has come for Americans to take over this conversation and demand sensible solutions that help keep us safe while protecting our Constitutional rights. We are smart enough to do both: to understand that gun ownership comes with huge responsibility. Not everyone is qualified to own or have access to guns, just as not all of us are qualified to drive a car, without some regulation. As President Obama said earlier this week in his news conference: "with rights comes responsibility." It's common sense, he said.

As predicted, the backlash has begun over the president's executive orders, which call for strengthening current gun laws and taking related steps on mental health and school safety. He also called on Congress to reinstate an assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, to restrict ammunition magazines to no more than 10 rounds and to expand background checks to anyone buying a gun, whether at a store or in a private sale at an auction or convention.

The president has begun a much-needed, difficult conversation. Congress should come up with its own common-sense solutions to curb gun violence if it doesn't like what's on the table. To do nothing would be a national disgrace. Do we really want to live in fear of one another, praying our gun is bigger than the next person's, or that we are quick enough to shoot first? There is no common sense in those gun-happy solutions.

Time has come for us all to stop politicians and lobbyists from turning our great democracy into a nation where it is easier to buy a gun than to exercise our right to vote. Somehow, I think our forefathers had something greater in mind for us when they wrote the Constitution.

We owe it to them, our children, our mothers and our fathers to try and live up to those great expectations.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roxanne Jones.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT