By Rob Spillman
Fifteen years ago I served on the Manhattan Federal Grand Jury for Homicides. All homicides in Manhattan go through this one courtroom, so for a month I listened to three or four cases a day, every day, voting on whether or not these cases should go on to a full trial. I was expecting Law & Order—lawyerly theatrics and heated deliberations. Sadly, this was not the case.
The majority of these guns were cheap, “Saturday Night Specials” bought on the street.
Almost every homicide was the result of a momentary flash of anger, where one or both young men—and it was all young men—pulled a gun instead of throwing a punch. All but two cases involved guns. The majority of these guns were cheap, “Saturday Night Specials” bought on the street. In one memorable case, a sixteen-year-old was brandishing a gun when it accidentally went off, grazed a friend’s ear, and killed another teenager behind him. We sent him to trial where he faced life in prison.
A good number of cases involved automatic weapons. It was a nonstop parade of sixteen-to twenty-two year-old men who had no trouble securing deadly weapons. Friends and family gave testimony, usually along the lines of “I can’t believe he had a gun. Dumbass opened fire at the family picnic.”
I also left jury duty 100 percent convinced that city dwellers should not be allowed to purchase or possess guns of any kind.
My month in that courtroom did more than dispel any notions of the veracity of TV crime dramas. I came away sympathetic to the fear and uncertainty urban police officers deal with on a daily basis. I also left jury duty 100 percent convinced that city dwellers should not be allowed to purchase or possess guns of any kind. Lastly, it underscored the importance of jury duty. Every citizen, particularly any citizen who votes on laws regarding guns in urban areas, should be required to serve on a homicide grand jury—not simply as a civic duty, but as a reality check.
Rob Spillman is Editor of Tin House, a 13-year-old bicoastal (Brooklyn, New York and Portland, Oregon) literary magazine that has been honored in Best American Stories, Best American Essays, Best American Poetry, O’Henry Prize Stories, the Pushcart Prize Anthology and numerous other anthologies. He is also the Executive Editor of Tin House Books. His writing has appeared in BookForum, the Boston Review, Connoisseur, Details, GQ, Nerve, the New York Times Book Review, Real Simple, Rolling Stone, Salon, Spin, Sports Illustrated, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Worth, among other magazines, newspapers, essay collections, and online journals. He is also editor of Gods and Soldiers: The Penguin Anthology of Contemporary African Fiction.