Jan. 27, 2016, marked the 11th anniversary of the night that a teenaged kid pointed his gun at my wife — a beautiful, talented young playwright and actress, my best friend, my soul mate — pulled the trigger, and put a single bullet through her chest.


All photos provided by J. Ray Sparks.

I knelt beside her in the street and begged her to hold on, to stay with me, to stay with her family. She tried hard. But after just a couple of minutes, she let go of her last breath, and along with it went any vision of a future I had. There would be no children. There would be no home. Instead there would be a dozen photographers and reporters waiting for me at every turn as the search for her killer proceeded and the story of her murder made its way into news outlets around the country.

Thankfully most people reading this will not know how this feels or be able to fathom the emotional and psychological scars left by such an experience.

Yet every single year in the United States, over 30,000 people die by bullet — about the same number as those who die in car accidents. Death by bullet is becoming the second leading way to die for American young people.

The death of any person, by any means, becomes a major issue in the lives of the people who love and lose them. Sudden, unexpected deaths like accidents leave different scars than those that are anticipated. And murder has its own deep, bitter brand of grief. Murder isn’t an accident. It’s not a disease. It’s a decision.

A popular slogan used by many American advocates for the constitutionally guaranteed right to own guns is "Guns don’t kill people. People kill people."

I absolutely agree. People murder other people by many different means. A simple hammer can be used to fracture a skull. A car intended for transportation can be used to run a person over. A gun is no different in this sense.

But guns are different in some key ways. Guns are, by design, the most efficient tools to use to commit murder. And unlike cars, guns are not strictly regulated. Guns purchased legally are easy to convert to the black market.

Selling a stolen car without having it traced back to the thief is a tricky business because every car in the U.S. is given a unique identification number, which if removed has to be replaced with a counterfeit number that is cloned from a legal car that is the same make and model of the stolen car. More often than not, stolen cars are completely dismantled and sold as parts rather than undertaking that more complicated approach.

All it takes to render a gun untraceable is a simple metal file used to remove the serial number.

There is no national registry of gun serial numbers. The gun used to murder my wife was a Brazilian-made Taurus .357 Magnum. It was legally imported to the U.S. and initially legally sold. Eventually someone committed the crime of selling it on the black market after the serial number was scratched off.

With the gun rendered untraceable, there was no means of holding any of the criminal gun traders accountable thus assuring the continued steady flow weapons into the hands of other criminals. But Taurus still made the same profit from the sale of that gun as they did on every other gun, properly licensed, and owned by law abiding citizens. The black market is good business for the gun makers. And both they and the National Rifle Association know that.

My wife’s killer was identified by a friend of his who saw the story on TV.

He was captured, convicted, and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. After the trial, I did my best to move on and start a new life. Of course it was very difficult. New Yorkers were very kind to me when they recognized me, which happened often for years after. I got a great new job and moved into the neighborhood where Nicole had most wanted to live. I made wonderful new friends who gave me so much support. But I had a huge hole … a profound emptiness that I did my best to hide.

Eventually I felt like I needed to go somewhere far, far away, where nobody knew the story. A place where I could start over again and be perceived as a normal person by people around me, rather than "that guy." The place I chose was Berlin. That was six years ago, and to this day, most people there don’t know my story. And I like it that way.

But the subject of gun regulation in the U.S. has weighed more and more heavily on my mind in recent years.

Mass shootings occur on a weekly basis in the U.S., and an average of 30 gun murders happen every single day, even though the overall rate of violent crime has been dropping for years. The Gun Violence Archive shows for the year so far (through Feb. 22, 2016), there already have been 29 mass shootings and over 1,700 deaths from guns, with more than 400 of killed or injured from guns being children under 18.

That’s a lot of broken hearts and homes. And given that 2016 is a major election year, I feel like those of us who walk through life with huge invisible holes in our hearts because of gun violence need to be publicly outspoken and active in working to elect representatives who will work to enact truly effective regulations to reduce gun violence.

The person who murdered my wife was not a career criminal.

He was a teenager from a poor neighborhood who was understandably frustrated with his environment. Neither he nor most of his friends with him at the time had ever even committed a mugging. It was his first time robbing someone, and he was nervous. He was definitely not the smartest kid on the block.

Yet because gun regulations so facilitate the black market, he was able to obtain an untraceable handgun. And it only took one moment of really bad judgement to take a young woman’s life, to send himself to prison for life, and to shatter the hearts and dreams of an entire extended family. It should have been harder for him to get the gun. It should be harder now.

I grew up shooting guns competitively in the midst of the gun culture of the South.

I have no problem with the Second Amendment or the abstract idea of citizens being allowed to own guns. The vast majority of people who own guns handle them safely and never use them for crime.

As one of those citizens, what I want in a nutshell is for guns to be regulated similarly to cars. Generally, legislation aimed at increasing public safety on the roads is viewed as positive. Legislation that does the same for guns should also be viewed positively, by both gun owners and others alike. It’s time for a citizen lobby to outspend and outmaneuver the NRA in favor of the common sense gun laws America needs.

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