Op Ed

Losing Sheila’s Smile

I’m now among some 40% of Americans who know someone killed with a gun.

By - Dec 31st, 2019 11:44 am
Shiela Green. Photo from Jeff Spitzer-Resnick.

Shiela Green. Photo from Jeff Spitzer-Resnick.

I have joined a club that is bigger than it should be and is certainly one that I definitely do not want to belong to. On Christmas Eve, my beautiful friend Sheila Green was murdered by her brother who suffered from psychosis. So now, I am one of the approximately 40% of Americans who know someone who was killed with a gun. That is an obscenely high number and is probably a low estimate as that study was done in 2015.

My wife, Sheryl, and I, met Sheila through mutual friends and through Sheryl’s work, when we first moved to Madison in 1985, as Sheila was an ultrasound tech at the same hospital where Sheryl did her medical residency. It was easy to become friends with Sheila as she had an ever present smile that always made you feel good when you saw her.

Sheila was also a chocolate aficionado, purchasing only the finest chocolates and baking up scrumptious chocolate treats on a regular basis. She was kind enough to share her flourless chocolate torte recipe with my wife, who has made countless of them over the years, and we think of Sheila every time we eat one. Sadly now, we will fondly remember her with each future torte.

Sheila came from a large family, and she was close with her many siblings. She did her best to care for her troubled brother. Sheila knew he owned a gun, and in fact, he had a concealed carry permit. She insisted that he not bring it to her home. For reasons we may never know, her brother did not honor that request on Christmas eve, and brought his gun to her home and shot and killed her.

Sheila’s friends and family are all grieving now for such a needless loss. It is especially needless because there are extreme risk protection laws in 17 states also known as red flag laws which are specifically designed to prevent murders by people who are known to be dangerous. These laws authorize courts to issue a protection order, allowing the police to temporarily confiscate firearms from people who are deemed by a judge to be a danger to themselves or to others.

Usually, the request for the order will come from relatives or friends concerned about a loved one who owns one or more guns and has expressed suicidal thoughts or discussed shooting people. Wisconsin, however, is not one of those states. Yet, it could easily have had this law in place in time to protect Sheila from her brother, who was a known danger who legally possessed a gun.

This past October, Gov. Tony Evers called a special legislative session to consider two common sense gun control measures: universal background checks and red flag legislation. Despite the fact that 80% of Wisconsin residents support passage of these laws, Republican legislative leaders refused to vote on, or even debate these popular measures.

In an utter act of contempt for voters, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald dismissed the Senate in 30 seconds and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos dismissed the Assembly in 15 seconds. Gov. Evers has considered calling another special session on these measures, but thus far, has not done so.

One would like to believe that as society grows and learns, it improves. Yet, when it comes to gun control, the United States continues to behave as if there is nothing we can do to prevent gun violence, leaving our nation stuck in a warped 21st Century Wild, Wild West.

This is my tenth gun control post on my blog in seven years, and while sometimes I feel like giving up, I persist, because too many innocent lives are being snuffed out on a daily basis. Sadly, this time, she was a friend.

I grew up during the Vietnam War, and every Friday on the evening news, the anchorman would report the weekly body count of dead and wounded. My mother shared some wisdom with me at that time, that applies to every single gun death. She said that she wished that they did not publish the number of dead, because that made them anonymous and allowed people to forget that each life lost was a real human being with friends and family.

The same is true with America’s out of control gun violence. I will not add the gruesome statistics to this post because I want every reader to read Sheila Green’s name, look at her beautiful smiling face, that will smile no more — and then call or e-mail Robin Vos and Scott Fitzgerald and demand that they find some courage to pass a red flag law.

It is too late for Sheila, but it is not too late for the many lives who could be saved in the future.

I sincerely hope that the loss of Sheila’s life will gain some purpose if the Wisconsin legislature passes a red flag law. We could even call it Sheila’s Law.

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner

Jeff Spitzer-Resnick is a nationally recognized attorney with over thirty-four years of experience in the fields of civil rights, disability and education law. He runs Systems Change Consulting, a consulting and training law firm with a focus is on making progressive systems change in the areas of civil rights, disability rights, general and special education, and combating abuse and neglect of vulnerable populations.

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