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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Guest Column: From one Columbia to another, gun violence hits close to home

Instead of debating gun control, I’d rather call my dad.

Jan. 28, 2014

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My father is a lover. It’s what he does.

He pours his heart out into his family, into his children. When my twin brother and I were born, he elbowed past nurses who wouldn’t let him into the delivery room as he recovered from a poison ivy outbreak. He taped gauze to his palms and forearms just so he could hold my brother and me after a successful caesarean section at Washington, D.C.’s, Sibley Hospital.

When my parents looked for houses in my infancy, he drew a radius around his workplace in downtown Baltimore of distances where he’d be comfortable to commute, rush hour be damned. When house hunting in the mid-1990s proved difficult, he expanded the radius two more times.

My family landed in Olney, Md., a developing suburban hamlet off the beaten path of Maryland’s main highways. My father commuted to work for 18 years through both D.C. and Baltimore rush hour.

He and my mother separated after 19 years of marriage just before I began my sophomore year at MU. I can’t put my finger on the reason why. My father is still a lover. He loves his children — my brother and me — his siblings and his parents.

He loves his nieces and nephews and cousins; and you must understand the Bogage clan is quite sizeable. Two years after he started running mini “sprint” triathlons at the age of 55, he signed up with his brother-in-law and niece to run a 10K in which he has to maintain a nine-minute mile.

I wish I could be in town to see him finish. A picture of my brother and me with our arms around my sweaty father at Centennial Park after his first race is still his desktop picture on his laptop. It’s my proudest moment with my dad.

When my parents separated, my father moved 15 miles north to Columbia, Md. It about halves his commute and puts him in the same city as his sister while only 20 minutes away from my childhood home.

He moved into an apartment about 500 yards from the mall so my brother and I would have something to do when we visited. But when a heavily armed gunman walked into the mall Saturday and killed two employees then himself, my dad was nearby.

When CNN cameras honed in on the triage unit in the parking lot, I could see my father’s building in the background.

I don’t need to go into detail about what that feels like, because I’m sure you can imagine for yourself. When my parents split up, I felt like I lost part of my family. I never took into account what truly losing my father would be like.

I stopped myself before my mind walked down that path. A text from my dad that he was at the gym and would be hanging out there until the police presence around the mall dissipated was a welcome vibration in my pocket.

Unfortunately, too many of us have had the same opportunity I had Saturday: time to think about losing a loved one in a tragedy, more recently a mass shooting. Events like these have become routine, even in my neck of the woods, where daily life comes with a side of security hypertension. I can tick off the “DMV” public shootings like clockwork: Virginia Tech, the Navy Yard and now Columbia Mall.

Last February, a graduate student at the University of Maryland took a semi-automatic Uzi to two of his roommates, killing one and injuring the other before turning the weapon on himself.

Street crime continues to ravage Baltimore City and the District. There were 104 homicides in D.C. in 2013. In Baltimore there were 189 shooting homicides alone.

Yet Maryland and Washington have some of the most stringent gun laws in the nation. Maryland banned 45 specific types of assault rifles in 2013 and magazines holding 10 or more rounds of ammunition. New gun-buyers have to go through an extensive background check, plus gun safety classes.

D.C. at one point banned handguns only to have a federal court overturn the ruling. Today, just being in the city with a loaded firearm is breaking the law.

Still, this country’s last two public shootings come in and around our nation’s capital. Why? I wish I had an answer. Saturday’s assailant bought his gun, a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, legally in Maryland. Amid backlash over the new regulations last year, left-wingers pulled back on plans to police rifle and shotgun purchases. I suppose hindsight is 20/20. It’s just hard to see through tears.

I love my dad, and I will do for him every day what he has done for me. I’ll speak out for him, I’ll protect him, and I’ll show up at the finish line of his triathlons.

Today, instead of calling names and pointing fingers as the gun control debate rages on, I’d rather call my dad.

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