BERKELEY, CALIF. — The debate over gun laws will return to the news soon, as the Senate considers a bill that would, for the most part, immunize gunmakers and dealers from lawsuits for damages caused by users of their products. For many, only headlines bring the issue to mind, but for some it is a constant concern.
Recently, I was straightening the photos and bits of paper on my refrigerator when I came across a little card. It said, "Raymond, Susan, Lauren, Brian, Kenzo's tree is BLOOMING!" A fixture on my fridge for years, it blended in with the collage of family memories. The little card had been delivered by Kenzo's mother years earlierand was attached to a bag of cookies shaped like maple leaves. The tree that the note referred to was the one the neighborhood planted after Kenzo's death.
Kenzo Dix was killed at the age of 15 by a good friend. He was shot accidentally with a handgun that the youngster thought was unloaded. The boy removed the clip but didn't realize there was still a bullet in the chamber.
My own son is now 15, but when he was little, Kenzo patiently helped him shoot baskets in the portable hoop the big kids put up on our street. Kenzo was a gentle and cheerful boy who never excluded the little ones. As my son grew up, Kenzo was our model of how big boys should be to little kids.
His parents had done a great job with him and his brother. They were vigilant and conscientious parents, but not smothering. Their love and kindness was evident in their boys.
The funeral was the most profound event I've ever attended. The church was filled with teenagers, including the boy who shot Kenzo. A Buddhist priest delivered the eulogy. The priest spoke about the three poisons or evils according to Buddhism: greed, anger, and ignorance. The priest gently and clearly explained the impact that mindlessness or ignorance can have. Kenzo did not die because of someone's greed or anger, but because of someone's ignorance.
In my work as a psychologist, I present workshops to adolescents. Since that day, I have often told Kenzo's story. It provides such powerful insight: Youngsters need to understand that bad intentions aren't necessary to cause enormous harm. A few mindless seconds with a gun, or behind a wheel, can be equally damaging. Every time I've told Kenzo's story, there has been pin-drop silence in the room. It somehow helps youngsters see how fragile life can be and how we need to protect it with both goodwill and mindfulness.
When a young person dies, people struggle to make sure the death is not in vain. And in my work with teenagers I try to see that Kenzo's life was not in vain. I believe those who loved him find a bit of comfort in knowing that the goodness of Kenzo continues to grow and bring goodness into the world.
Hardly a day passes when I don't think about him. I drive by the maple tree on my way to work. I see his mother and wonder at her ability to cope. I hear a basketball bouncing in the street. I think of him when I see my son extend a kind gesture to a little child, as Kenzo had done to him.
I read about gun issues in the paper and wonder how peoples' hearts might be changed had they known, and then lost, Kenzo. I wonder if the "freedom" of some might create a prison of loss and sadness for others.
The gun lobbyists argue that they fear "frivolous lawsuits." In this case, it is an oxymoron. No person who has lost a loved one when a gun was not carefully made or carefully sold feels the least bit of frivolity. They are, unfortunately, very serious. Kenzo's loss is still sad beyond explanation - but Kenzo's tree is still blooming.
• Susan DeMersseman is a psychologist.