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Each Tragedy Has a Name

Each year a sorrowful survey puts the bad news in black and white. The most recent tally of gun deaths in Los Angeles County covers 2001 and includes 866 homicides, 347 suicides and 12 accidental shootings, according to county death certificates and statistics kept by the California Department of Health Services.

But numbers numb, which is why the report, by the nonprofit group Women Against Gun Violence, also names names. That of Nadine LeBlanc’s grandson Christopher is on Page 25.

Christopher Michael LeBlanc died June 9, 2001, but he was not the only victim of that senseless shooting. A story in last Wednesday’s Times described Nadine LeBlanc’s two-year struggle to break through the darkness that descended after the shoot-and-run murder of the grandson she’d helped raise. Nineteen years of sweet memories ended with this one: The sight of Christopher’s Timberland boots dangling out of his old white Oldsmobile. Police have not found the man who witnesses say shot the newly minted high school graduate.

The owner of a beauty salon that’s a South Los Angeles institution, LeBlanc struggled to come to terms with her grandson’s murder even as six more sons of friends and friends of friends died in shootings. She overcame her despair by joining a group that was doing something to draw attention to the slaughter.

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“We know there is a war going on across the world,” she told a room full of police officers and reporters in late March, when she put her own face and story upon the litany of numbers and names presented by Women Against Gun Violence. “But we’re losing our loved ones at a phenomenal rate.”

In Los Angeles County, homicide -- not motor vehicle accidents -- is the leading cause of injury-related deaths. More than half involve gangs. The toll is highest among young people.

A coalition of women’s groups and individuals founded Women Against Gun Violence in 1994 to counter a marketing campaign by gun manufacturers urging women to buy guns to protect their families. Today it lobbies for a ban on gun show sales and for other gun safety laws, much as other activists have demanded safer cars and highways.

Guns are involved in more than 80% of the county’s homicides. Getting guns off the street and out of the hands of gangbangers will take not just laws but also gang prevention and intervention programs, better schools, more jobs and a boost in the number of law enforcement officers serving underpoliced Los Angeles. But first must come the public will to support -- to demand -- a long-haul commitment.

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By putting a name on a number and multiplying it by all the grandmothers and fathers, uncles and sisters, brothers and best friends who have lost loved ones to this epidemic, Nadine LeBlanc feeds the outrage and compassion that are needed for such resolve.


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