Gun violence seems to be hitting closer to home

Friday, March 1, 2013
A member of the Cape Girardeau Police Department an apartment building 401 S. Pacific as police Department investigate a fatal shooting Friday, Feb. 8. Two people are confirmed dead in the shooting. (Adam Vogler)

Until two weeks ago, Argentry Marshall didn't really care about the national debate about gun regulations.

The 45-year-old Cape Girardeau resident hadn't paid much attention last year when two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history took place in a Colorado theater and at a Connecticut elementary school.

He didn't give much more thought to the topic when the violence hit closer to home. Before the early morning hours of Dec. 8, two murders had taken place in his own largely African-American community.

But Marshall wasn't dwelling on that either.

"None of it really affected me," Marshall said. "It didn't directly relate to me. So I didn't think it was any of my business."

All would change, though, when Marshall saw a pistol pointed at his best friend. He heard shots ring out as he ran.

Marshall's friend, Shannon D. James, was killed last month in a shooting, along with his girlfriend, Misty D. Cole, in their Cape Girardeau apartment building on the corner of Bloomfield and Pacific streets.

Kenneth D. Bell Jr.

Marshall appears to be the prosecution's main witness at Thursday's preliminary hearing, considering he claims to have seen a slight altercation between James and Kenneth D. Bell Jr., the man police say killed James and Cole.

Marshall said he was standing in the doorway of James' apartment building as Bell confronted James. Marshall ran.

During an interview with the Southeast Missourian, Marshall said he heard two bursts of gunfire. He assumes the first shot cut short James' life while the second killed Cole.

"Guns? I'm scared of guns, especially now," Marshall said. "I don't carry a gun. What for? I ain't looking to shoot nobody."

Gun violence like the kind that happened to James and Cole, some have suggested, has amped up in recent years, especially on Cape Girardeau's south side. Police respond to calls of shots fired most weekend nights along streets with name like Bloomfield, Hanover, Good Hope and South Sprigg.

Kalum J. Campbell

Earlier this week, 17-year-old Kalum Jabreel Campbell was arrested on weapons charges after police said he and another man shot at an SUV on Bloomfield Road.

According to data provided by the Missouri State Highway Patrol, firearms were used 54 times in robberies and assaults last year. That's not much more than five years ago, when in 2008, firearms were used in 43 robberies and assaults. But the 2012 numbers were a significant drop from 2011, when 85 robberies and assaults involved a firearm.

The last 20 years of gun violence in Cape Girardeau County paints a broad picture of ebbs and flows, the numbers show, hovering between 30 and 50 instances of gun violence. That mirrors, roughly, the national data, which showed that 50,000 people were threatened last year by a gun in the United States and survived. Other surveys say about 31,000 were killed by a bullet, including more than 8,000 homicides.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tracks gunshot injuries and estimates the national 2011 total was between 36,708 and 111,058.

It was against this backdrop in February that President Barack Obama surprised some when the economy was not the focus of his State of the Union address. Instead, Obama called on Congress to vote on a series of new gun controls, such as closing background-check loopholes to keep guns out of dangerous hands and banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as taking other steps to reduce gun violence; making schools safer; and increasing access to mental health services.

In Missouri, the president's proposals largely have been greeted by a dim view. Missouri lawmakers have taken more of a pro-gun approach. The Missouri Senate gave first-round approval to a plan to allow the National Rifle Association's gun-safety program to be taught to teachers, to learn how to respond to armed intruders. Earlier this month, one Missouri lawmaker proposed sending legislative colleagues to prison for introducing gun-control legislation, which he acknowledged has no chance of passing.

Rep. Kathy Swan, R-Cape Girardeau, on Thursday said she doesn't believe more gun controls are required. The freshman legislator said she already understands how divisive an issue guns tend to be.

"People feel very passionate about their constitutional rights," Swan said. "This one was implemented to allow the citizens to protect themselves from government. Any attempt to infringe upon that right is a danger signal, as far as I'm concerned."

SEMO Pachyderms have rescheduled a gun-control panel discussion, postponed on February 21 because of inclement weather for 7 p.m. March 7 at Dexter BBQ in Cape Girardeau.

Featured will be Lt. Barry Hovis of the Cape Girardeau Police Department who also is a longtime member of the National Rifle Association, Jake Ruebel, a conceal-carry instructor, and Jeff Poole owner of Absolute Arms and Ammo.

The state's Democratic legislators are working to advance the president's cause. House Bill 187, filed recently, would do on the state level one of the things Obama is proposing on the national level -- requiring criminal background checks of all gun owners.

While the debate continues, Argentry Marshall is still having trouble sleeping at night as he continues to dream about his friend's death. When Marshall thinks about what he said led Bell to shoot James and Cole, he grows more angry.

The altercation that took place on Bloomfield just moments before the shooting was this, according to Marshall: James didn't walk around Bell, who was talking with another man on the street that night. Marshall walked around them, but James walked between the two men and they bumped shoulders as they passed.

Just a few moments later, Marshall would be running, and his friend would be dead.

Marshall, two weeks later, is less interested in debates on gun control than he is interested in talking about justice.

"I got a big hole in my life," Marshall said. "A big hole. It was over nothing. Over nothing. I hope he rots in hell and gets there quick."


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