It took Griffin Dix a year to get over the initial shock that his 15-year-old son Kenzo was shot and killed by a friend with a gun that the friend’s father left loaded and unlocked.
The friend took a full clip out of his father’s Beretta and put in an empty one. What he didn’t know was that there was a bullet left in chamber. The shot went through Kenzo’s arm and entered his heart
Kenzo died at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital that day. That was 1994.
“The boy was tricked by the design of the gun but also his father was able to buy a gun without getting gun safety training,” he said. “He didn’t know how to minimize the risk of bringing a gun into the home.”
Since 1995, Dix has been on a crusade to force gun manufacturers to install better safety mechanisms and to require that all gun owners get the proper training to ensure that tragedies like Dix’s do not happen again.
He has worked with state and local legislators to tighten gun laws and helped the San Francisco General Hospital’s Bell campaign and trauma foundation’s effort against gun violence.
That organization recently joined forces with the Million Mom March, a national organization dedicated to preventing gun death and trauma and supporting gun trauma victims and survivors.
Once a professor of anthropology at Santa Clara University, Dix now spends much of his time organizing efforts to require personal gun locks. He also wants gun ownership to require safety testing similar to what motorists must undergo.
“Guns and automobiles are very dangerous. If people are going to use them, they should know how,” he said.
Today, Dix will be making signs and preparing for a train journey to Sacramento in which members of the Million Mom March will present letters and petitions to state legislators. His group will be leaving Jack London Square in Oakland at 8:45 a.m. on Sunday.
Last year, the million mom march brought more than 750,000 people to Washington, D.C., and Dix hopes the number will be in even greater this year. He also expects that 5,000 people will show up in Sacramento.
Dix, who is suing the Beretta gun manufacturer to get them to allow locks and chamber loader indicators on their guns. That battle has been uphill, Dix said, because the gun industry is resistant to putting changes in. Dix filed the lawsuit in 1997. While a jury ruled against him, a judge threw out the verdict because there was an indication that there was some jury misconduct. That decision is currently being appealed by Beretta, he said.
Dix, 57, is a walking encyclopedia of gun-related knowledge and can regurgitate stats like the percentage increase in Oakland gun deaths last year (55 percent) and the percentage of guns that are unlocked with a child in the house (43 percent). While Dix does not advocate the abolition of guns in the home or handguns, he does support proposed legislation that would enact greater control. He is also working on a book on gun violence based on his experience. And although it often takes a tragedy like the shootings at Columbine and Santana high schools to bring attention to gun violence, Dix said he has hope that things will change.
“People’s attention wanes, but we still have loopholes in gun laws. With the Bush administration not willing to close the loopholes, people are discouraged,” he said. “But they need to realize that there’s a lot that can be done.”
For more information on the Million Mom March call 655-6520.