When our son, Ron, died by suicide on Christmas morning of 2015, he left a careful trail of information so that we would have as few unanswered questions as possible. He took as many extraordinary measures as he could think of to make the impact of our losing him somehow comprehendible. One of the details he attended to was to provide full information about the purchase of the weapon he used to take his life, a gun.
Soon after Ron’s funeral I realized that I needed to go to the gun shop so that the people there could meet one mother torn by grief because they choose to profit from the gun trade. I chose the three month anniversary of Ron’s death unaware that, on the 2016 calendar, it would fall on Good Friday, March 25.
Going to the gun shop where Ron purchased his weapon turned out to be an important step, as well as an unusual ritual, in our family’s grieving process. Maureen, my law enforcement officer friend, was like a guardian angel there with us (Joe, Tom and I). Moe, ever the professional, called ahead and told the owner to expect us. While he was not happy to hear we were coming, he appreciated the heads up.
Upon arrival, we performed a ritual of pouring sand and water on the sidewalk and the outside step prior to entering. The owner greeted us and escorted us into his office and requested that I read the statement there in a private setting. I declined and told him I planned to read it inside the shop where guns are actually purchased. When he asked why that mattered, I told him that was where my son stood to purchase the gun and that’s where I needed to stand in order to close the loop. He hesitated, clearly not wanting customers to hear, but realized he had no choice as he could see I was adamant.
The owner was no taller than I am so when I read my statement I could look directly into the eyes. (Were they brimming with tears? Or was that wishful thinking on my part? I don’t know.) There were other workers and buyers there in addition to three older people whom we believed to be his parents and an uncle. Why they were there is anyone’s guess. Everyone was quiet and respectful. A young man behind the counter removed his hat and looked at me quite tearfully and softly mouthed the words, “I’m so sorry” over and over. (I later wondered if meeting us and hearing about Ron would give him second thoughts about the work he chooses.) I gave them both one of Ron’s memory cards. And then we left the store, went outside, held each other and cried.
When we arrived home, I fell into bed, cried myself to sleep and awoke feeling more at peace. I felt like we closed a loop. Ron left the receipt for the gun in plain sight so we would know exactly where to go. That night I felt a sense of release I hadn’t felt before. The action had been cathartic. While the peaceful feeling was fleeting, at least it lasted that night.
Here is the statement I read to the owner of the South Philadelphia gun shop.
Hello. My name is Marge Sexton. I am sorry to have to tell you this. I am here today to close a loop that began on Tuesday, December 8, when my son, Ron Silberstein came here to purchase a Smith and Wesson SD-VE 9mm handgun, sn FWP9609 which he subsequently used to take his own life, 3 months ago today, on Christmas Day, December 25, at approximately 9:30 AM. I am here at this time because scripture tells us that Jesus was nailed to the cross at Noon on Good Friday. I am here to witness for Ron just as Jesus’ mother witnessed for him.
I understand that this was a perfectly legal transaction. But I am not impressed by legal gun purchases. A gun is a gun. For Ron, who was suffering from depression, to have such easy and unquestioned access to a gun is a serious moral lapse in our culture.
I forgive your part in this tragedy, just as I must forgive myself for anything I may or may not have done to set Ron on this tragic path. I am just another weary mom whose life has been upended by the tragic convergence of the easy availability of guns and Ron’s own depression that would cause him to come in here and walk out with a handgun, which is the worst thing imaginable.
I just want you to be fully aware that, when you decide to make your living from the sale of guns, you know there are millions of victims just like me whose lives are shattered. The bullet that entered Ron’s body went into my own heart. I ask that you seriously consider the morality of your work, as I presume that you are good people who work here, that you have families you love and who love you.
This locket contains some of Ron’s ashes. I wore it today because Ron walked in here on that seemingly ordinary Tuesday, purchased a gun and after that the rest was somehow inevitable. And so I come with his ashes in this locket to close that loop. Before coming in here I scattered sand on the public sidewalk, symbolic of Ron’s ashes and sprinkled water to bless this place for life instead of death. Even after you sweep the sand, it will be impossible to remove every grain, just like it is impossible to remove the fact of Ron’s purchase here that day. That reality lives forever in this place. Who knows how many more deaths your gun sales have caused and will continue to cause? The victims of gun culture are more than the ones who die, they are also the families, friends, co-workers and the communities forever impacted.
I wish you well. I wish you peace. I leave one of Ron’s memorial cards with you so you can see his face. I just want you to see his face. He was a wonderful son and his life was a blessing to all who knew him. His death changed many hearts. It would be my hope that yours might be among them. Thank you for your attention.
P.S. – I learned a few months later that another young man went into the same shop, purchased a gun, went to the shooting range in the back, and took his own life right there. And so the cycle of death and grief, enabled by our country’s unholy alliance of greed and violence, continues unabated.