FOR GOD'S SAKE, MURDER
On the talk shows, the right-wing zealots pretended they were not responsible for Dr. David Gunn's murder.
Over in Mesa, a place made famous by the incredible number of conservative pit bulls in residence, they brag about raising a defense fund for the admitted killer. Why not, they say? After all, Dr. Gunn was an abortionist. To the zealots, this made Dr. Gunn an evil man, a baby killer. By their warped reasoning, the pumping of three bullets into his back will save the lives of eight babies a day.
Rush Limbaugh, the evil windbag, proclaims over the radio that the Republican party bears no responsibility whatsoever for the thugs and religious crazies with their limited mental capacities who march the streets outside the nation's abortion clinics. But certainly this is the one thing we must never forget. The Republicans and Ronald Reagan and George Bush are totally responsible for these people. For no matter how they attempt to dodge and dance around the issue, they rode this wave of hatred into the White House.
So the terrible deed is over and done with. The man who was David Gunn, age 47, was buried during a snowstorm the other day. He may soon be forgotten. But the war has escalated.
Who was Dr. Gunn? What was there about him that marked him for death?
He was tiny, slight and nonthreatening. He walked with a pronounced limp stemming from a severe bout with polio suffered as a child. He wore blue jeans and Nikes to work. He had long hair and a flowing mustache and glasses. He was a friendly sort who believed he was doing the right thing for women. He was married twice and separated from his second wife. He had a son, David Jr., and a daughter, Wendy Leanne.
He became a doctor because of his bout with polio.
"You know what it's like to be sick," his grandfather told him. "You can take care of people."
According to the New York Times, he attended medical school at the University of Kentucky and did his medical residence at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. His first job in medicine was at a public hospital in Brewton, Alabama.
His son, David Jr., told the Times that his father went to Alabama because it had the highest infant mortality rate in the country. He wanted to help turn that figure around.
Dr. Gunn went into obstetrics because of his limp. He was able to deliver babies in a seated position. His legs would never have been strong enough to stand up to a full surgical load.
In 1983, Dr. Gunn set up a practice with a fertility specialist in Eufaula, Alabama, a river port known for its bass fishing.
But about the same time, the doctor who had been performing abortions in Columbus, Georgia, became too sick to work.
It was a three-hour drive for Dr. Gunn, but he agreed to undertake the job. Most other doctors were actually afraid to cross the picket lines that were already set up.
Dr. Gunn was no starry-eyed liberal. But he was committed to a woman's right to choose. He had seen too much abuse and neglect and too many unwanted babies brought to term.
From his base in Eufaula, Gunn traveled six days a week to clinics in Georgia, Alabama and Florida to perform abortions. He discussed his reasons with Paula Leonard, the licensed practical nurse he had been seeing during the last year of his life.
"These 9- and 10-year-old girls would come in who had been molested," he told Leonard. "There would be rape victims and women who just could not financially handle another child."
The more Dr. Gunn witnessed about the predicament of women in the South, the more committed he became. He gave up his private practice.
He knew about and had seen the protest signs which read "David Gunn Murders Babies."
He understood his life was in danger. He carried three pistols with him in his car. There was one in the glove compartment. There was another under his seat. There was still another in his trunk.
But he always thought that when the killer came upon him, it would be while he was driving between clinics.
We always underestimate how thoroughly hate can warp a person's thinking. How could Dr. Gunn expect that Michael Griffin, a man he had never seen before, would shoot him in the back as he walked into that Pensacola, Florida, clinic at ten in the morning?
Griffin, a fundamentalist Christian, celebrated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by attending the burial of two 18-week-old fetuses.
The ceremony was conducted by John Burt, a former Ku Klux Klan member who now is a lay preacher opposed to abortion.
Dr. Gunn spent that same day by playing Tom Petty's song "I Won't Back Down" while he worked in a clinic at Montgomery, Alabama.
He was the first doctor to be slain during an anti-abortion protest since the procedure was legalized 20 years ago.
His murder was a despicable and ignorant act. But what makes it even more loathsome and odious is that the people who created the climate of hate still insist that God is on their side.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.