Tragic lesson for all of us 

He lies now under a blanket of unspoiled snow in this Colorado land he loved so much. He was a hunter and a fisherman and a fan of cowboy hats and, oh my goodness, how he could swing a golf club.

He went to Mexico with his church group and tried to ease the lives of those who were born with so much less.

He cherished all of that, and his laughs echoed from the mountains and his eyes danced with joy and for no one, ever, had life held such promise.

But on a recent Sunday, this good, good kid drank beer with friends while watching a football game and, in his confusion and in the nighttime darkness, he tried to get into the wrong house, a house with the same street number but on the wrong street.

He made a terrible mistake. The resident in the house was scared, and soon came an awful roar from a handgun and, just like that, Sean Jacob Kennedy was dead. He was 22.

At his memorial service the other day, several hundred people tried to stifle their sadness and muffle their grief, and they failed and the sobs rose up and made you dizzy. His mother, Lisa, wrote a note that she could not read. Someone did it for her.

"Sean was an imperfect person," she wrote. "And one mistake will not define Sean's life. He was more than that one mistake."

I first met him just a few months ago, on a hot summer day with the sun dancing in our blue sky. He was an assistant golf pro at Kissing Camels Golf Club in our village. I was in my 40th year of playing golf badly and figured a lesson wouldn't hurt.

I got lucky. I got Sean Kennedy. He worked on my swing and we talked about a lot of things, like how he taught himself to hit golf balls on his family's ranch out on the eastern prairie, and how he loved fly fishing, just like me, and we traded big fish stories. And we laughed a lot. Seems like he did that with everyone.

My swing got better and he was glad and when we were done one day he told me I had a lot of potential, which seemed like an odd thing to tell a 53-year-old golfer. I laughed again and so did he.

And Dec. 28, he died as a bullet passed through his body. For the hundreds who knew him, from his newest friends such as me to his oldest and dearest friends and his family, the world will never be the same. He made that kind of impact.

Police say the person who shot Kennedy might not be charged, that the resident might be covered under our state's Make My Day Law that allows homeowners to use deadly force in self-defense. The law says an intruder has to be inside the house, though, and police indicated Kennedy was not inside, but had broken a window and was trying to unlock the back door of the house he thought was his.

But there was fear and it was real and you cannot blame the resident for feeling that way. And, of course, because this is America and because it was El Paso County, Colorado, there was a handgun.

And that's the way it should be, according to our local daily newspaper and its editorial writer, Wayne Laugesen, an ex-Soldier of Fortune magazine editor no kidding. Here are some highlights of the Gazette's obsession with guns since Laugesen came on board in January 2008.

Arguing for the right to carry loaded guns everywhere, including college campuses: "Instead of stopping crime, gun bans facilitate crime," and "Gun restrictions kill. It's an exact science."

"There's a saying among gun rights activists that when you need a gun, you really need a gun."

(There's a saying among educated people that when a community needs a good daily newspaper, it really needs a good daily newspaper.)

Here's an idea: Tasers. The most expensive ones can crash thousands of volts into an intruder from 15 feet away, leaving the victim convulsing in a heap for several minutes as you call police. Or how about bear spray? The chemical- or pepper-based liquid can knock down a grizzly at 35 feet. All the protection you need, right?

Not if you read our village's daily newspaper, which had this to say about such sissy weapons: "The best weapon for self-defense is a lawfully concealed handgun. ... Stun guns could be menacing in the hands of those who view them as something safer than guns."

During his presidential campaign 40 years ago, Robert F. Kennedy spoke about the epidemic of guns and violence in our country. Two months later, he was killed by a nut with a handgun.

"No one ... can be certain who will suffer from some senseless act of bloodshed," Kennedy said. "And yet it goes on, and on, and on in this country of ours. ... We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force. ... But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness."

Not that "When you need a gun, you really need a gun" isn't a nice thought, too.


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