Why is the kid in the picture smiling?
Because he’s amazing.
Why is he in a wheelchair?
Because a stray bullet paralyzed him.
Then again, in a variation on a stale theme from gun-rights defenders: Bullets don’t paralyze people. People who fire bullets paralyze people.
Try smiling about that.
Try looking at that photo from a Charlotte rehabilitation hospital without triggering intense feelings ranging from bewilderment to rage to despair.
Heck, try looking at it for more than a couple of seconds.
That paradoxical image hit me hard in the emotional gut when it first appeared in Tuesday’s Post and Courier.
The cute 5-year-old with the happy face and new wheelchair is Tyreik Gadsden, who’s still at that medical facility in North Carolina.
The cretin who shot him in a May 22 gunfight on Charleston’s East Side, where Tyreik was visiting his grandmother, is still at large as of this writing.
The fact that non-targeted victims are often caught in shootout crossfires still holds.
And the debate over who should have access to firearms, and how, is still being won by misguided Americans who stretch our 18th century Constitution’s Second Amendment beyond 21st century realities.
But some young folks and even some old ones did some smiling of their own Wednesday while marching in the rain in Tyreik’s honor — and against gun violence (see today’s front page). The event, which also raised money to help pay Tyreik’s health care bills, was held at North Charleston’s Dunston Primary School, where he graduated from kindergarten a few weeks ago.
What lessons do those kids — and the rest of us — learn from what happened to Tyreik? What does Tyreik teach us with his remarkable smile, which according to assorted sources isn’t reserved for photo-ops?
And how can we find something — anything — positive to take from this enormously bad break for a good little guy?
A crowd of more than 200 showed up Monday night at the International Longshoremen’s Association Hall on Morrison Drive to contribute more than $7,500 toward Tyreik’s medical expenses. You, too, can donate to the Tyreik Gadsden Benefit Fund at any branch of the South Carolina Federal Union.
Meanwhile, Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen has firmly stated his department’s resolve to catch the creep who shot Tyreik — and urged the community to provide tips to deliver justice in this infuriating case.
As for any hope of tightening the too-lax gun laws in our state or nation, though, that’s a very long shot. Some of our state lawmakers annually play Quick Draw McGraw with increasingly absurd proposals aimed at not just preserving the right “to keep and bear arms” but at expanding it to taverns, churches and virtually all points in between.
No, we law-abiding citizens shouldn’t surrender our fundamental right to defend ourselves, our families and our property with guns. And in a nation with roughly 300 million privately owned firearms, making it tougher to legally get one wouldn’t eliminate the risk of being gunned down.
After all, armed robbers and murderers are unlikely to be deterred by tighter firearms restrictions. As the saying goes: If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns.
Yet more stringent — and logical — regulation of guns isn’t the same as outlawing them.
Couldn’t that reduce the ridiculously high risk of Americans, including 5-year-olds, getting shot?
Enough already on the seemingly futile quest for stronger, overdue, reasonable gun control.
Tyreik shouldn’t be reduced to just another pitied prop for that so-far-lost cause.
Instead, regardless of where you stand on guns or any other policy issue, step back — and turn your eyes back to that photo of a smiling 5-year-old.
Cut that picture out of the paper. Keep it handy.
Then the next time you feel sorry for yourself, take another look at that initially heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting image.
Put your perceived plight into a better perspective by checking out the spunky little guy grinning in his new wheelchair.
See him smiling despite his cruel circumstance.
Then smile despite yours, too.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is email@example.com.