I was offered a chance to reflect and write about my friend Mark Hummels after he was taken from us tragically in a shooting in Phoenix. Some of you know that I served the University of Arizona as a professor from 2001 to 2010. Tucson is where we met Mark and grew to love him. For anyone who reads this who loved Mark and his family, I know you are hurting. I am devastated for his wife, Dana, and his children, whom he deeply loved. As I reflect on Mark, who was one of three people shot—two fatally—during a mediation session by a person involved in a lawsuit, I find that I can't stop thinking of beautiful times in Tucson, Mexico and Phoenix. I think also of Tucson and, sadly, gun violence. My wife and I met Mark and Dana when we moved from the East to Tucson. All of us had left our families far behind and knew no one in Arizona. Mark was in my wife's law class.
They hit it off ... and he and I did. I've never met anyone like him. He was so brilliant and serious about his work, but all of that was wrapped into a quirky, truly unusual person who was goofy and loved to play. If you met him out of the office, you would never know that he was an attorney at a prestigious law firm, that he graduated first in his class and passed the bar with the highest score. There is a lot to read about Mark's incredible accomplishments and I encourage you to do so. As the shooting was reported, our circle of friends saw pictures of him in a tie. The picture represented him, as our work is a part of us, but we always saw him in hilarious T-shirts. He rode a unicycle, off-road, and sometimes while juggling. At concerts he'd pick a spot, feel the music and just start jumping. He read legal works in the tub. He enjoyed infomercials and bought crazy stuff off of TV like those knife sets that cut cans. I remember him on a beach in Mexico with a grasshopper tattoo on his arm, wearing a Santos mask, and playing with his children. Mark took every piece of life that was offered to him and squeezed every drop from it. He was goofy and he was infectious. Mark gravitated to people no matter what their station of life or background, and when I had the opportunity to see him, I knew it would be an adventure. I am shocked that my friend is gone and I regret so much that he never got to see my odd, city of Asheville with its mountains, craft beers, drum circle and trippy people.
My reflections on both Arizona and Mark are forever linked to my evolving perspective on gun violence and reform. Tragedies keep bringing my thoughts back to Tucson. I will never forget the Saturday morning when my wife and I heard NPR report the senseless shooting in Tucson. I remember the false report that Gabby Giffords had died. I worked on both of her campaigns and got to know her and her staff along the way. Several of my former students worked for her. I also remember Judge Roll, who had spoken in my class. I had a beer once with Congressman Ron Barber. After I moved, a promising student took his life ... and then Newtown.
After learning of Mark's death, I thought of all the people I've known who were victims of gun violence. Two suicides; my brother wounded in Iraq; Gabby; Judge Roll; Ron Barber ... that's six. My grandmother's neighbor who died after dropping a shotgun, a cousin who was murdered and now Mark. That's nine. As I was sitting in shock, a colleague came to visit with me. I told her about Mark, and I told her I've known nine people touched by a bullet. I asked her how many she knew? She is from Israel and served in the military. Her number was zero. We talked more about how attitudes about gun ownership are so very different here. I thought about the question more and more and wondered if anybody had a number like mine. So I got on Facebook and asked if my friends knew anyone who had been touched by gun violence, and what I read was sobering. Person after person posted numbers representing accidents, domestic violence, suicides, a spur of the moment fight—and murder. Some were deaths, some were injuries. Some were close friends, family members or just someone they remember talking with. Several people even told me that they had been personally shot. A student I had taught confessed to having several bullets still in her body. I didn't even know it. In fact, my number is no longer nine ... it is 13. It's not something we ask people. But amazingly, people are talking now and they shared my post.
Guns are in the fabric of our nation; they are part of our life. But gun violence is also in the fabric of our nation. And it is woven deep. I'd like to talk more about Mark right now and tell you more about him and how thousands of people he touched are suffering. But it's clear that you know that. Most of you know people touched by a bullet. What is your number? I bet our network is, sadly, large. If guns and gun violence are in the fabric of our nation, then I would suggest strongly that it IS something that we can talk about. I have reflected a lot on gun violence. I was once a person who made the same arguments that gun proponents do. I know them all. I think I understand the reasons we are fighting. I'm not the same.