A licensed gun holder shot and killed my brother five years ago in Broward County, Florida. Today, he is a free man, living a normal life and still owns the gun that took my brother’s life. In the state of Florida, you are granted access to a gun once you’ve passed the standard background check. In the state of Florida, a person is justified in the use of deadly force if it is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to him or herself.
This was not the case when it came to my brother. He did not cause great bodily harm, in fact, he was running away from the shooter. After he fell to the ground from the first bullet, the shooter stood over him to evidently take the last shot, “the kill shot.” The .40-caliber semi-automatic Beretta Storm jammed and his getaway ride was there just in time before the police arrived. My brother lay in the hospital for 14 days fighting for his life and our family was left to make one of the toughest decisions we would ever have to make. In his last moments, he could not speak or move but he had tears on both sides of his cheeks. He was 20 years old and had a smile that will always live in our hearts.
On October 1, 2017, 59 people were killed in the deadliest shooting in modern US history. The shooter was perched on the 32nd floor of the Mandala Bay Resort and aimed his automatic weapon towards a crowd of approximately 22,000 concertgoers. Did you know the Mandala Bay Resort is approximately 200 yards away from the strip? That’s the size of two football fields. The weapon he chose is capable of traversing the distance of 300 yards, which would make it a military-style weapon.
After a background check is performed, how is it that we can be certain the new owner of a deadly weapon will not make an irrational decision? Why should individuals be granted access to automatic and semi-automatic weapons that are designed to kill?
On November 5, 2017, the number of mass shootings in the U.S. in 2017 reached 307. There have been nearly as many mass shootings in America as days in 2017. Americans are more likely to die from gun violence than many leading causes of death combined, with some 11,000 people in the U.S. killed in firearm assaults each year.
During my brother’s trial, the shooter’s lawyer roared across the courtroom that the defendant acted in self-defense. On a large screen, an image projected of a small cut on the shooter’s nose — this was the injury that led him to shoot his gun five or eight times into a crowd and then aiming at my brother. The victims of gun violence are quickly forgotten, the events live on in an article or brought up again when another incident occurs.
How many more mass shootings have to happen before we do something about this?
My brother was a whole-hearted and kind human being. He had a bright future ahead of him and was loved by many. As the days go on and we continue our lives without him, it only becomes more painful. To celebrate birthdays, weddings or new additions to the family without Shawn, there is always a sense of emptiness. We live in a country where this can happen to anyone at any given time and in some states they can even get away with it.
Falesia Allie is in the E-commerce industry and is also a published freelance writer. She started her own online jewelry business to raise funds to donate to the Brady Campaign. She’s a proud anti-gun violence advocate and continues to shine light on her brother’s story.
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular