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'My Son Died Needlessly'

June 26, 1999

Michael Shean Ensley, the 17-year-old son of Margaret Ensley, was gunned down at Reseda High School on Feb. 22, 1993. His 15-year-old murderer used a gun he had purchased at a park. Following Michael's death, Ensley founded M.A.V.I.S.--Mothers Against Violence in Schools, a group that teaches and advocates nonviolence and lends support to parents and schools in violence prevention. She is a board member of Women Against Gun Violence.

Ensley spoke to MARY REESE BOYKIN about why she supports gun control.

Michael, my son, didn't deserve to die like an animal in the street, and he should never have died on a school campus. And then to die at the hands of a 15-year-old with a .22-caliber pistol is inexcusable. It is as easy for teenagers to get a gun as it is for them to walk into a store and get a soda. All they have to do to buy a gun is stand in a park.

I am a total supporter of banning assault weapons, handguns, Saturday night specials. We don't need these things. You're not going hunting with a 9-millimeter. You kill people with weapons like these. My position is in opposition to that of the National Rifle Assn. which hides behind people's 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. I stand behind any law that limits the number of guns a private citizen can own and the number of guns that make their way into our community. Some people have arsenals of guns in their homes.

Violence is something most people don't think will actually happen to them. That creates a false sense of security. Some think, "That's a South-Central issue or a Watts issue." No, it's a people's issue. It's a life-and-death issue. All it takes is one person with one gun. Ask Bill Cosby. All the money in the world won't bring his son back. He is no different now than me. We have the same heartbreak. Why? Because of easy access to guns.

Women Against Gun Violence targets the gun manufacturers, the gun sellers. We feel that they are to blame for a lot of the gun proliferation in our community. Frequently, they do not do the proper checks to make sure that guns are not getting into the hands of the wrong people. These guns get into the hands of gang members.

We advocate limiting gun sales to one a month. What citizen needs more than a gun a month, if he needs one at all?

We are looking at having safety locks on guns and holding parents accountable when kids gain access to weapons that should have been locked up.

After founding Mothers Against Violence in Schools, I received calls and letters from children telling me that they were afraid--some were even afraid to go to school or to say anything.

In my case, other students knew a couple of days before Michael was murdered that his killer carried a gun but were afraid to say anything.

When I went to Sacramento to talk to some of our legislators, I learned that more than 150,000 guns are being carried onto our nation's school campuses daily.

M.A.V.I.S. supports teaching preschool to ninth-grade students how to curb anger, deal with diversity and channel negative behavior into something positive.

The sad part is that people who use weapons don't realize the devastation that they cause for the families. They think that they have eliminated a problem. But the problem for me and parents like me is just beginning because there's a void in our lives.

I sit and think about it every day. Sometimes, the pain is so acute that the only way to alleviate it is to scream. Sometimes, it takes a daily cleansing of tears. The hard part is when you turn on the news after you've had your daily cleansing and hear that yet another child has been killed. You look for an end to it, just look for some peace, but there is never any peace. The only comfort that I have is to try to save someone else's child so that others don't have to experience this pain.

One thing is certain: Violence has allegiance to no one. We can't wait until it is personal before we take a stand. I remember watching the news with Michael one evening when the murder of Demetrius Rice, a student shot at Fairfax High School, was announced. I hugged Michael and said, "Baby, I am glad that wasn't you. I feel sorry for that mother." But I didn't demand stronger gun legislation. In fact, I took no public stand. A month and a day later, Demetrius' mother walked through my door to console me.

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