Next, the Shooter Aimed His Gun at Me

On September 9, 2001, in suburban Sacramento, two California highway patrol vehicles pulled up next to a dark blue Nissan. Without warning, a thin man in fatigues emerged from the vehicle and opened fire with an AK-47. After wounding an officer, the shooter jumped back in the Nissan and barreled away. He crashed into a fire hydrant, stepped out of the car again, and resumed firing. In a nearby Jack in the Box parking lot, people sprinted for safety as round after round of ammunition peppered the ground and surrounding vehicles. “It was like a war,” said a detective on the scene.

Next, the shooter turned and aimed his gun at me.

My name is Jeff Mains, and I was on the way to the supermarket for a can of chew when a hollow point bullet from that gun tore through the door of my pick-up truck and hit me in the left flank. Hurtling through my body, the bullet did exactly what was it was designed to do — it created a cavity thirty times larger than itself. My bowel was pierced, my liver lacerated, and my diaphragm ruptured. Intestines spilled out of my abdomen as I opened my truck’s door, stumbled out, and collapsed in the road.

Later, the man who shot me — Joseph Ferguson — would take his own life. But before he did, he shot and killed five people. I was on the verge of death myself and spent more than three weeks in intensive care and months in the trauma unit as my body embarked on the long — years long — road to recovery. It’s been more than a decade now, but my physical scars are still extensive and my psychological scars still present.

Is it any wonder that I believe that AK-47 assault weapons, hollow point bullets, and high capacity magazines should be more difficult to obtain? That I believe mental health services should be easier to access? And that gun violence is ugly and terrifying?

My name is Dustin Ballard, and I was one of Jeff’s trauma physicians at UC Davis Medical Center. I remember him well, and I remember being deeply disturbed by his wounds, as I have been by the scores of gunshot wounds I’ve helped to treat over the years. Despite the miles that distance us since we first met, Jeff and I have stayed in touch. Recently, I asked him to describe his experience and his thoughts about gun violence. I asked him this because I thought that his story — like so many others — can help inform the national discussion on gun violence.

Together, Jeff and I believe that the circumstances of his shooting expose many of the fallacies put forth in the current debate. Reflecting on that night, it would not have mattered if Jeff had had access to a self-defense firearm. In a random rain of bullets, self-defense was not an option.

But it would have mattered if Joseph Ferguson had not had access to such a devastating weapon and so many rounds of ammunition. No matter what some say, it does make a difference what type of weapon you try to kill with. If the shooter had chosen to fight Sacramento police with a knife, or hammer, we are quite certain that Jeff would not carry such physical and psychological scars. It might have mattered if the shooter had access to mental health services or had not grown up living in a culture of gun glorification.

But let’s focus on what we know would have mattered: Limiting Ferguson’s access to weapons and ammunition.

Jeff and I are weighing in to support preventive-minded legislation now before the California state legislature. We know that there is good evidence that background checks prevent crimes from occurring, and that good records help law enforcement solve crimes that have occurred. We see no need for individuals to have easy access to assault weapons with high capacity magazines.

In California — where nearly 6,000 people are injured or killed by guns every year — we urge passage of a package of sensible bills in the LIFE (Life-saving Intelligent Firearms Enforcement) Act. The bills include prohibiting large capacity ammunition magazines and strengthening California's assault weapons ban and would prohibit firearm possession by convicted criminals. We urge our state legislators to take these and other important steps towards addressing the ongoing pubic health scourge of firearm violence.

-Jeff Mains, Sacramento CA

-Dustin W Ballard, MD, San Anselmo, CA