I used to believe that one of the stupidest narratives in existence was the National Rifle Association’s assertion that “the only person who can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” I also believed that turning mass shooters into celebrities creates more mass shooters. But I no longer believe these things are true ...
I know they are.
Last night, while sitting on the couch engaged in a time-honored Friday-night Negro tradition called “chillin’,” I received a text that simply read, “Did you hear about Junie Poonie and that mass shooter?”
My heart sank.
I contacted Junie’s sister first, and she sent me the link to the story of how her brother stopped a man who wanted to become the “greatest mass shooter in history” by filming himself massacring people in a Las Vegas church.
To understand this story, you must first know the hierarchy of the black family tree. There are black people across this country who have blood relatives they don’t know about, including sisters, brothers and sometimes parents. Ranking higher than any DNA-based relationship, though, is the earned honorific of “play cousin.” A play cousin is a de facto sibling. It is more family member than actual family.
When I was growing up, my mother’s best friend had four children. She was as much my aunt as any of my mother’s sisters. Her husband was one of the scant few in-house fathers in my neighborhood, and he was a hulking figure of a man who still calls me “professor.” Like my family, they had three girls, and only one of their children was a boy. His name was Heyward Jackson Jr., but in most black neighborhoods, birth names are as malleable as DNA and often give way to nicknames.
We call him “Junie Poonie.”
According to KVVU-TV, on Feb. 21, Heyward Jackon Jr. was attending a church service at his Las Vegas church when he noticed 23-year-old Calin Howard Hodges asleep on a pew. Junie asked Hodges if he needed some help because he looked disheveled. Hodges declined Heyward’s help and told Junie that he was “planning something big.”
Junie began talking to Hodges (and I know Junie; he can charm a space alien from Nebula 5 who only speaks Quooloc into an engaging conversation by making a person think he genuinely cares about their home galaxy and is interested in what they have to say). Hodges began telling Heyward that he was planning to become “the greatest mass shooter in history,” referenced Stephen Paddock, and, according to the police report, added that he “completely identifies with every mass shooter” and “salutes every person who has the balls to do it.”
And what did Junie do? He kept talking to the dude and surreptitiously began recording the conversation on his cellphone. About 40 members of the church were shuffled outside and the police were called while Junie kept the man engaged.
When the cops arrived, Junie shared his recordings with the officers and they arrested Hodges. “Police charged Hodges with making threats or conveying false information concerning acts of terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, lethal agents or toxins prohibited,” KVVU-TV reports.
Police will not say if Hodges was armed. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, he was an adult film actor who had been fired as a Lyft driver.
Nevada has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. Newsweek describes them this way:
Nevada law does not require firearms owners to have licenses or register their weapons, nor does it limit the number of firearms an individual posses. Automatic assault weapons and machine guns are also legal in the state as long as they are registered and possessed in adherence to federal law, according to the National Rifle Association.
If this incident seems like someone just rambling to a stranger, when police searched Hodges’ car, they found a diary saying, “Stephen Paddock stole my idea on 1 October.” “1 October” is a reference to the day Stephen Paddock killed 58 people at a country music concert in Las Vegas.
Calin Hodges’ planned mass execution was also reminiscent of Dylann Roof, who shot up Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.—the state where Junie and I grew up—killing nine parishioners during a Wednesday-night Bible study.
Heyward thwarted Hodges’ copycat crime on Feb. 21—at Mountain Top Faith Ministries’ Wednesday-night Bible study.
Junie and I grew up like brothers along with another one of our friends, James Bond (no, that’s not a nickname; James’ nickname is 007, or “Double-O”), who lived on the same street. The three of us were the rare few guys in our entire neighborhood to escape our surroundings and go to college. I somehow managed to get an academic scholarship. Double-O went into the Army and then to college. Junie attended college on a football scholarship and later moved to Las Vegas to play semipro football.
They were the cool guys. I was the nerd. They were both charismatic and athletic. I was the nerd. Our families attended the same church. We teased each other’s sisters. We ate at each other’s table. Junie was younger than us, but he was never afraid of shit, maybe because he was crazy. Or maybe because he’s been built like a brick shithouse since he was about 8.
Our only disagreement in life was when Junie informed me and Double-O that he was pledging Kappa. I’m still disappointed in him for that. But he’s still my play cousin. Plus, I’ve never seen Junie shimmy.
When I spoke to Junie, he told me he was definitely “shook,” but told me he couldn’t reveal the details publicly because prosecutors had issued a gag order on the case. He also said that he thinks people need to hear the audio recordings so the public can know the kinds of people who have access to guns.
We rarely talk much these days, and to be honest, it’s my fault. Whenever we have a conversation, it’s because he occasionally reaches out to me to talk about something random. He now lives in Vegas and I live in Alabama, so we don’t even get to see each other’s families.
In the last few years, we have seen each other a couple of times. His nephew was in a car accident a few miles from my home last year, and I made sure Junie’s sister, mother and father were well-fed when they were in town. He called me when he was getting married, and we got the chance to hang out last summer. We were both in town on business, so we didn’t spend a long time together.
The FBI reports that of the 104 active-shooter events between 2000 and 2012, 17 were stopped by potential victims. In 14 of those situations, the shooting was stopped by someone who was unarmed and managed to talk to the person or subdue the shooter with no weapon.
Only three active shooters were stopped by a good guy with a gun.
I know Heyward Jackson Jr. and cannot imagine him being erased from the earth by a psychopath. Even worse, I can’t fathom that someone would become a celebrity by killing my play cousin and lifelong friend. He is a father. He is a husband.
Junie Poonie is a good guy.
He did not have a gun.