With this past week’s 15-vote misadventure of the GOP in the House Speakership drama, maybe you thought I’d focus on the Republican Party’s (in)ability to govern. But other news has been the focus of my attention.
Most Latter-day Saints in Utah (and many outside the Beehive State) are probably aware of the shooting deaths of eight family members in Enoch, Utah. At first, all we were told was that police had discovered eight people dead in a home in southern Utah. Details came out gradually. We learned that a husband and father had murdered his wife, her mother, and the couple’s five children and then turned the gun on himself. My initial reaction was sadness that yet another troubled soul had taken out his anger on his family. Then my sister called.
Jolene and her husband, Jim, had spent most of their married life in the Columbus, Ohio, area, where Jim had been a professor at Ohio State until he had to retire with a disability. My sister then went to work, first as a chemist and then as a manager, for Battelle. She retired a few years ago, and they moved from Columbus to Hurricane, Utah, near St. George, to enjoy a better climate for Jim’s deteriorating health. Interestingly, they moved into a ward where two of our cousins lived. We have quite a few cousins in the St. George area, since my dad’s family had settled in Enterprise, about 40 miles north of (and 2,600 feet higher than) St. George.
When Jolene called me last Thursday, she asked if I had heard about the Enoch tragedy. I said yes. She then informed me that the victims were members of our extended family. Specifically, the perpetrator’s mother-in-law, Gail Earl, was the wife of our first cousin Boyd, who had died three years ago from cancer. Boyd’s brother is one of the cousins who live in Jolene’s Hurricane ward. The wife who was murdered would have been my children’s second cousin. This was, of course, a shock, but not as much as it would have been had I known the family.
You see, my dad was one of the younger siblings in a family of ten children. He also moved to Salt Lake City after serving in World War II, where he earned a degree in accounting at the University of Utah. He then moved further north, to Ogden, where he had been hired by his future father-in-law to work in his small CPA firm. Dad didn’t stay with Grandpa’s little business long, but he did stay in the Ogden area. Jolene and I grew up in North Ogden, where Grandpa had given our parents a lot to build a house on. Consequently, we didn’t see our Terry cousins very often, since most of them lived in southern Utah. We were especially disconnected from Dad’s older siblings, because their children (our cousins) were quite a bit older than we were.
Frances was one of Dad’s older sisters. She married Evan Earl, and they lived in St. George until their deaths. I’m not sure I ever met their son Boyd or his wife, Gail. Boyd was 14 years older than I was, so by the time I was old enough to remember our occasional visits to St. George, he may have already left home. And we didn’t spend much time with Frances’s family anyway when we visited. Dad was closer to the two sisters who were just older and younger than him, and they had kids who were near the age of Jolene and me, so we mostly spent time with them.
Needless to say, I never met Tausha Earl, Boyd and Gail’s daughter, who married Michael Haight, the unhappy husband and father who killed his family in Enoch early last week. We do know that Tausha had filed for divorce on December 21. Jolene said she had met Gail. She got together for lunch a while ago with the “Earl women,” probably the daughters and daughters-in-law of our aunt Frances.
This is of course a terrible tragedy, and quite unexpected, according to the Haights’ extended family and neighbors. We may never know what caused this active LDS husband and father to take out his anger and frustration on his children, his wife, and his mother-in-law, who was staying there to support her daughter during what had to be a difficult time. I believe it was Jolene who told me that Michael had refused to leave the house, but according to news accounts, Tausha’s attorney said she had not expressed any fear that Michael would physically harm her.
But he apparently had a gun. And in a desperate moment, he used it.
And so, my cousin’s wife Gail, her daughter Tausha, and five of her grandchildren have become statistics in the ongoing gun slaughter that occurs multiple times every day in America. As I write, on January 8, there have already been 17 mass shootings in America this new year that have left 23 people dead and 69 injured. According to the Gun Violence Archive, whose statistics I am using, a mass shooting is one in which four or more individuals are shot or killed.
In 2022, 44,260 Americans died from gun violence, including 20,170 homicides or unintentional shootings and 24,090 suicides. There were 648 mass shootings and 36 mass murders. In 2022, 314 children age 0-11 were killed and 680 were injured; 1,356 teens (age 12-17) were killed and 3,793 were injured. Guns are the leading cause of death among children under 18, barely edging out automobile crashes.
Comparing gun deaths and injuries in America with statistics from other wealthy countries shows that we are an outlier, by wide margins. There are, on average, 11.9 gun deaths per 100,000 citizens in the United States, compare with 1.9 in Canada, 1.0 in Germany, and 0.2 in the United Kingdom. Japan’s average is so low it registers as 0.
The reason for America’s wide statistical margin is twofold. First, Republican legislators refuse to enact reasonable gun restrictions even though a majority of Republicans favor some of them. For instance, according to fivethirtyeight.com, 91 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans favor universal background checks. Similarly, 85 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans favor “red flag” laws. It is revealing to note, however, that while 83 percent of Democrats favor banning assault weapons, only 37 percent of Republicans favor such laws. Interestingly, although there are more guns in America than people, less than half of Americans have a gun in their house (48 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of Democrats). But despite Republican voters’ support of certain gun laws, GOP legislators are seemingly cowed by the gun lobby.
The second reason for America’s outlier status among wealthy nations is that we love our guns more than we love life. And Republicans are adamant about this. Even though they claim to be the pro-life party, when it comes to guns, they would rather preserve the right to own them almost unrestricted than to save the thousands of lives that unrestricted gun access snuffs out. This is similar to the attitude toward masks and vaccinations that prevailed far more among Republicans than Democrats during the height of the pandemic. Individual freedom outweighs the greater good.
So, in the end, while this blog post will likely not move any LDS Republican to forsake the GOP, perhaps it can serve as one more straw on the camel’s back. If the Republican Party had less support, we would definitely have more effective gun laws in the United States. And there is a direct correlation between the prevalence of guns in a society and the number of gun deaths. But until we love life more than guns, nothing will change. I keep wondering when the people of this country will grow so sick of the carnage that they will willingly give up their weapons of death. Perhaps never. Perhaps some of us are fine with the carnage. It’s just collateral damage in the culture wars plaguing America, and a misconstrued and anachronistic line in the Bill of Rights prevents us from considering the obvious solution to this mess. And so we can expect to have endless repeats of the disaster that has now affected my extended family until it affects every family in America. Is that what we want?
According to news reports, all three adults in the Enoch tragedy were trained in the use of guns, and Michael had apparently removed guns from the house shortly before the shooting, perhaps to make sure his wife and mother-in-law could not defend themselves. In the statement from the Earl family, they caution against using this tragedy for political purposes, but it is exactly the staggering number of these sorts of shootings that make this a political issue. We need to talk about it, and we need political action—or else nothing will change. The family tries to make the case that if the “protective arms” had not been removed from the house, Tausha and her mother could have defended themselves and the children. But that is wishful thinking. Even with guns in the house, Michael still could have easily attacked when Tausha and Gail were nowhere near the weapons. Assuming the Haights were responsible gun owners, those weapons would have been locked away, unloaded, with the bullets stored separately from the guns, because they had small children in the house. So I don’t buy the Earl family’s attempt to depoliticize what is a very political tragedy. I’m sorry, but I have to speak out on this, even though (or especially) because it strikes so close to home.
As a final thought, a sobering though perhaps irrelevant fact in this sad calamity is the echo of family history. Michael Haight was a great-great-great-grandson of Isaac Haight, the stake president and militia officer in Cedar City who ordered the 1857 attack on the Baker-Fancher party, more widely known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.