On Bullet-Riddled Bodies

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Nardyne Jefferies with autopsy photo of daughter Brishell Jones. Photo by Lexey Swall/ The Trace. Front art by Jim Cooke

Astonishingly, our gun-fuelled bloodshed goes on, and the grim news of its scope gets worse. In the latest appalling news, analysis shows that toddlers shoot someone, often themselves, almost weekly: There have been at least 43 instances this year of somebody being shot by a toddler 3 or younger; in 31 of those cases, hapless toddlers, evidently having not yet taken the NRA's much-touted gun-safety courses for kids, turned the gun on themselves. Also: The Guardian, as part of its terrific, terrifying The Counted series, has found that just 224 of 18,000 police departments around the U.S. reported often-egregious fatal shootings by their officers to the FBI - a count that omits the killings of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford and countless other high-profile deaths. The explanation is simple: Thanks to the ludicrous voluntary nature of reporting, nobody reports.

Pointless deaths at the hands of unnamed, unpunished assailants wearing blue uniforms aren't the only crisis; so are even more deaths at the hands of often unhinged people with guns who shouldn't have them. As the body count grows ever higher, frustrated gun-control advocates are starting to argue that more graphic and theatrical tactics - cue anti-abortion activists waving pictures of bloody fetuses - are called for. Those with a sense of history cite the  example of Mamie Till, mother to 14-year-old Emmett Till. After he was brutally mutilated and murdered in 1955 for being a black boy, she famously insisted on an open coffin: "I just wanted the world to see what they did."

Nardyne Jefferies' 16-year-old daughter Brishell Jones was killed by an AK-47 three years ago in a random drive-by shooting after a group of young men opened fire on a D.C. street; that murder was sparked by another earlier murder over a crappy lost or stolen bracelet. (Insert grievous only-in-America here.) Jefferies has grieved, marched, ranted, attended city council meetings, marched again. Each time, she has borne aloft a gruesome color autopsy photo of her daughter, her bloody flesh split, revealing bone and muscle. Lawmakers turn their heads away. Reporters decline to use it in stories. Jefferies doesn't care. "My daughter’s head was blown off with an AK-47 and I don’t care what anybody thinks of my photo, as far as, ‘Oh my god, why would you show that?’ Why wouldn’t I show that?” she says. "I just can't see myself talking about gun violence without showing what gun violence is.”

Many victims' families and advocates for sanity agree, arguing that a one-second look at Brishell's photo will educate more people than years of "arguments, truth, reality, statistics." After Sandy Hook, Michael Moore likewise called for the release of at least one small victim's photo; a forensic expert described the ilkely results of the ammunition used: "Substantial portions of the head would be literally blasted away. The underlying brain tissue would be extensively lacerated with portions of hemorrhagic brain tissue protruding through the (fractured) skull, some of which would remain on portions of the face." Moore was pilloried for the suggestion in a nation "that doesn't want to see the grisly results of their violence," from Newtown to Iraq. Sandy Phillips, who lost her 24-year-old daughter Jessica in the Aurora shooting and was mentioned by Martin O'Malley in the debate, also chose to describe gruesome reality during the shooter's trial. Jessica was shot six times, in the leg, abdomen, wrist, clavicle. “My beautiful daughter’s head shot put a 5-inch hole through her left orbital (eye) and blew her brains out. A 5 inch hole.” What else is there to say?

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 Jefferies marches/ Getty photo.

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