Dr. Joseph Sakran, a trauma surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, was on call the night before Fairfax’s anti-gun-violence event. By the time his shift ended, he’d worked 30 hours straight.
Yet although he desperately needed sleep, he kept his commitment to speak at the Sept. 23 Concert across America to End Gun Violence. Besides caring deeply about the topic, it was important to him because that date was 24 years to the day when he was shot.
It was Sept. 23, 1994, and Sakran was a student at Lake Braddock High.
AFTER A SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAME, there was a violent fight and a shooting elsewhere in Burke, and he just happened to be in the vicinity. “One second, you’re an innocent bystander; and the next, you’re collateral damage,” he said. “I wasn’t involved, but I got hit by a random bullet.”
Now, he said, “Probably the worst part of my job is having to talk to parents, sisters and brothers and tell them their loved one is no longer with them because of senseless tragedy. Sometimes, the memories of those loved ones are chiseled into my mind. And I think about what went through my parents’ minds when they learned I was shot.
“When we think about what’s going on in our country, we’re really facing a public-health crisis when it comes to gun violence,” said Sakran. “And as Americans, we have both the possibility and responsibility to ensure that we’re making communities safe for citizens.”
In his job, he sees shooting victims daily; and recently, he worked on the people shot in the workplace incident in Aberdeen, Md. However, he said, “Mass shootings get lots of attention. But there are so many stories of shooting victims every day that go unreported, and their lives are just as important.
“No one ever thinks their community will be affected by gun violence,” added Sakran. “But the reality is that – while we don’t wake up thinking it’ll happen to us – we can’t be complacent.”
Also attending the anti-gun-violence event was Fairfax resident Ken McMillon. He came to show his support because, growing up in Southeast Washington, D.C., he’s lost friends and relatives as a result of shootings.
“We’ve had so many incidents, and I started speaking out about gun violence in 1968 while I was a student at Anacostia High School,” he said. “Someone I knew showed my friend Cornell his gun in the boys’ room. He was bragging about his .25-caliber automatic and thought he’d emptied the clip. But there was still one bullet in the chamber, and he accidentally shot Cornell in the stomach. Cornell used to sing and play piano with a group. But after that, he survived, but never sang again.”
Later on, said McMillon, “One of my cousins shot and killed his brother’s wife. I never associated with them again. And another cousin, Marcus Green, was also shot and killed. He was outnumbered in a fight, and then another guy came up from behind and shot him in the head. My aunt and uncle were so distraught, my mother and I had to identify the body.”
Gun violence even informed McMillon’s choice of career; he became a D.C. firefighter. “I chose the fire department, instead of the police department, because firefighters don’t carry guns,” he explained. “Then, on my first call on my first day of active duty, we responded to a call where someone had gotten shot in the nose.”
AFTER THAT, came “Columbine and so many shootings in D.C.,” said McMillon. “And until Newtown, I didn’t think there was a voice for the victims. But I joined with others in the Coordinated Action Group – now called Concerned Citizens of Fairfax County – and thought, ‘Finally, we can effect change.’” That entity has almost 100 members and is now part of Moms against Guns and the Northern Virginia chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
He said the Sept. 23 event in Fairfax was important because, in the three or four days preceding it, there were “nine mass shootings in the U.S. where at least four people were shot. And the mindset of the NRA has gone from caring about gun safety to the proliferation of guns on the streets and their owners’ so-called rights.
“They talk about ‘good guys with guns,’ but they’ve done little to help anyone else,” continued McMillon. “And many politicians have been bought and sold by the NRA. So we have to make people more aware of the truth that guns aren’t a given right. But if you have one, you must respect and honor human life.”