By Sara Koplik
Several weeks ago, a tenant in a house I own murdered a man. My brother knew Steve for 15 years. They went to grad school together. Steve was a responsible man, who held a job, paid the rent on time, and always did whatever repairs the house needed. He was reliable, if a bit odd for his views. He dabbled too much in conspiracy theories, but he also helped to care for the disabled mother of his partner for many years.
About a year ago, things started to go wrong. Steve became addicted to hard drugs, probably methamphetamines. In the summer, his elderly father sent him to relatives in Texas, hoping they could straighten him out. They didn’t. They couldn’t. His partner fled. Steve came back home after a month, and asked his father for his guns back. Well, his father reckoned, he was a grown man, how could he keep his guns away from him?
The guns returned. The addiction remained. But, here’s the other thing that happened, that happens when drugs mix with a mind that is already on the edge: mental illness arrived – full-blown paranoia. Steve lost the ability to discern reality.
Steve shot at a construction crew in front of his house. Nothing happened. Worried neighbors asked for the police to conduct welfare checks. Steve was a bright man. He could fool overburdened police officers. Nothing happened.
On Thursday, my mother the social worker received a phone call from a terrified neighbor who feared retaliation and wouldn’t leave her name. On Friday, we asked a former police officer for advice and help. We started to make a plan. But, it was too late.
On Saturday night, October 28, Steve Kramer shot Vincent Gutierrez in the stomach and killed him. Monica Martinez, Vincent’s girlfriend, collapsed when she heard the news. She told KOB news: “Everybody loved my baby. Everybody loved him. He was a good man. He didn’t do nothing wrong.”
One of Steve’s friends, Andy Christopherson, told the Albuquerque Journal: “This was one of the smartest, most compassionate people who turned into a totally different person in a very short period of time… It just shows you what those drugs do…”
Two families are devastated. They will never be the same. Nothing will ever bring back Vincent or undo Steve’s terrible crime.
The system failed us all. But, the system is so profoundly broken that Steve never actually interacted with it.
His previous criminal record was a few traffic citations. Steve needed to go to rehab. He needed a mental health evaluation. But first, he needed a referral. Steve didn’t have a doctor. He didn’t
get an evaluation. He didn’t get rehab. He didn’t interact with the system until he walked out of Stella Padilla’s campaign office with a warm gun and told officers it wasn’t his.
Other countries have drug addicts. Other countries have individuals who become mentally ill from drug addiction. Other countries have inadequate drug rehabilitation programs, overburdened doctors, and not enough police officers on the street.
But, no other country allows a profusion of unchecked, unregulated firearms. No other country that is, that is not in a state of civil war. This didn’t have to happen. Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Aurora didn’t have to happen. Still the list grows longer.
Every major Jewish denomination and organization in the United States has condemned the violence inflicted upon our nation and called for gun control, most especially after the Newtown and Las Vegas massacres. The list includes the Orthodox Union, the Conservative Rabbinical Assembly, Union for Reform Judaism, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women, B’nai Brith International, the Anti-Defamation League, World Jewish Congress, and the Jewish Federations of North America.
As a nation, we seem to value guns more than our own children, more than the lives of countless innocents, good people like Vincent Gutierrez, a man who “prayed for everybody.” We are broken. How many more deaths will it take for us to change?