The Death of a Delivery Person

Photograph Source: NoondayNews – CC BY 2.0

Zhiwen Yan was a delivery person for a restaurant in Queens, New York. He was allegedly murdered by Glenn Hirsch, who had demanded his money back from the restaurant where Mr. Yan worked. Mr. Hirsch had allegedly been harassing workers at the restaurant over a takeout meal, which he said did not have enough duck sauce packets to satisfy him. Mr. Yan was married and had three children, having come to the US from China some years earlier (New York Times, June 2, 2022).

With gun massacres (counted as four or more killings) coming one after another, here are statistics on gun murders in the US (in 2020) as reported by the Pew Research Center:

What share of all murders and suicides in the U.S. involve a gun?

Nearly eight-in-ten (79%) U.S. murders in 2020 – 19,384 out of 24,576 – involved a firearm. That marked the highest percentage since at least 1968, the earliest year for which the CDC has online records. A little over half (53%) of all suicides in 2020 – 24,292 out of 45,979 – involved a gun, a percentage that has generally remained stable in recent years.

A comparison of homicides compiled from the National Vital Statistics System is telling:

Nearly 123,000 deaths were attributed to homicide in the years 1950-64. The number has risen almost every year, from 7,942 deaths in 1950 to 9,814 deaths in 1964. The rate has fluctuated between 4.5 and 5.3 per 100,000 persons during this period from 1950 through 1964 [.]

People were being murdered at high numbers in the 1950s through 1964 according to this data and most murders were by guns, but even with an adjustment for the size of the population, it is obvious that murder by guns has accelerated to a level that no other nation can begin to match, and the murders are now often mass killings.

Murders now include defenseless children, people at religious services, people at concerts, and people at the movies, among other killing fields. The mass killings are beyond comprehension, but not beyond explanation.

The lack of community has combined with all kinds of real and perceived wrongs which murderers cite as reasons for their mayhem, unless they kill themselves, or are killed as a result of their violent rampages. Often, murders leave behind a trail of behavior and documentation as perceived reasons for their lethal acts. Mental health challenges are not the leading cause of mass gun murders, but rather, a vicious kind of anger (sometimes linked to machismo) and resentment at a whole host of issues, from religious zealotry to getting back at innocent workers over an issue about duck sauce. It’s a kind of frontier individualism coupled with the perception that violence is justified in righting a whole host of wrongs. There is little sense of community here to check this violence, and even community would not help in some cases of mass violence. White supremacy and anti-Semitism are other reasons for mass violence. In 2021, there were 1,055 police killings of civilians in the US. During the same year, 458 police were killed while working. The majority of those police deaths were a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Narcissism, a totally commodified existence, a politician (Trump) that offered to pay the legal fees of supporters who beat protesters at campaign rallies, and endless wars all enter into the equation of the bizarre and often lethal romance with guns in the US.

Follow the money… Here are 2018 gun sales figures cited by Forbes:

Gun stores had revenue of about $11 billion, IBIS World said in its 2018 report. Gun and ammunition manufacturers had revenue of $17 billion, but the majority of that revenue comes from the defense side of the equation: arms sales to the U.S. and [to] foreign governments.

The links between militarism and domestic gun violence and gun profits are not hard to find. Right-wing US senators are some of the prime beneficiaries of gun lobby campaign support.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution has made the US into a laughingstock by part of the world. Putting guns and military-style rifles with large ammunition magazines in the hands of just about anyone is a recipe for disaster and murder. States where so-called gun rights are popular achieve the rest. Often forgotten in gun proliferation in the US is the colonial-settler expansion completed at the end of guns. Indigenous people knew the latter well.

Only miles from the Queens, New York street where Zhiwen Yan was shot and killed, lived one of my community college students and his best friend, both of whom were killed several years ago. They were shot to death on the front steps of that student’s home in Queens. The deaths mount and thoughts and prayers and the lack of Senate action go on and on and on ad nauseam. Here are the most recent series of gun murders in the US, reported in the New York Times (June 5, 2022).

March for Our Lives has called for a major march in Washington, DC on June 11th. There are many local marches on that day, also. I plan to attend the march in Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the horrific school massacre in December 2012. At Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 children and 6 adults were murdered. A person can remain heartbroken for a very long time and then it’s time to go out onto the streets and protest!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).