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the Body Politic
Vol. 4, No. 2 - February 1994, Page 02
Copyright © 1994, 1998 by the Body Politic Inc.

David Gunn Remembered

Interview by Anne Bower

You know, David has never been to the place his father was shot ... that kind of surprised me and from that, I got the idea for the memorial. Instead of him going by himself, why not go there with several hundred or, the way it's shaping up, several thousand supporters.
On March 10, 1993 in Pensacola, FL., Dr. David Gunn went to work at one of the clinics he served throughout the South. He drove to his parking place, got out of his car, but never made it to the door. He was shot down, allegedly by anti-abortion protestor, Michael Griffin.

The pro-choice community was stunned, but not necessarily surprised. Tensions around clinics had been escalating for months. Patients and staff had been harassed and stalked. Wanted posters with doctor's pictures and personal information were being circulated. Randall Terry had promised to make doctor's lives hell and finally, an anti-abortion zealot, had tried to pave the way.

Eleven months later, doctors and clinics are still under siege, the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances law (F.A.C.E.) is not yet the law of the land, and the alleged murderer has not yet stood trial. (See page 16) Still, most clinics are open and most doctors are providing services. To remember Dr. Gunn and celebrate those keeping up the good fight, Ron Fitzsimmons, Executive Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers has organized a memorial to the slain doctor. Ron talked to the Body Politic about this event in a telephone interview from his Alexandria office.

Q: Ron, what are the current plans for Dr. Gunn's memorial?

A: We are going to have a tribute to David Gunn some time in the morning of Sunday, March 13, in Pensacola Florida. The memorial will feature his son, David Jr. This is meant to be an "up" event and will include people reminiscing about David. There will be some kind of a non-religious service, and I'm going to wrap it up with some thoughts of my own. Then David, Jr. will place an appropriate memorial at the site of his father's death.

You know, David has never been to the place his father was shot, which is how this idea kind of evolved. I had been thinking of doing something on the anniversary, but David said to me he had never been to the site. That kind of surprised me and from that, I got the idea for the memorial. Instead of him going by himself, why not go there with several hundred or, the way it's shaping up, several thousand supporters.

Q: Will the memorial service take place outside the clinic?

A: Yes. Across the street from the clinic is an amphitheater, almost a Roman-style building. It seats several hundred people. My current plan is to have the providers sitting in the amphitheater, plus David and me on the stage. Around the amphitheater are hills where other pro-choice supporters can be located.

Once the memorial ceremony is done, David will walk across the street to the clinic. At the site of his father's death, he will place a plaque or maybe plant a tree.

Q: You said many people have expressed interest in being part of this memorial.

A: There have already been lots of calls from activists. The word is out -- especially down there.

The hotel where all of us will stay is six miles from the site. There is no public transportation so what we're thinking of doing is having a motorcade. Activists will drive up in front of the hotel and our people will jump in and head for the amphitheater. There might be a several hundred car motorcade through Pensacola.

Q: Kind of like a funeral cortege.

A: Sort of, but I'm uncomfortable with that. Maybe we'll decorate the cars in some way. We're still working on plans.

The event on Sunday morning should take about an hour. Then, Sunday night, we intend to have an Irish wake for David. His son and all his friends know David loved a good party and would not want us to grieve or mourn. He would want us to celebrate. We're going to accommodate David.

Q: This is just for the providers.

A: Yes, and special friends. The next day, we're having a conference. The purpose of the NCAP conference is to connect doctors with the resources that can help them with all kinds of problems. For example, a provider calls and say, "My landlord is trying to break my lease. Who can I call?" So, I've chosen to invite the three groups who might best be able to help our doctors: The Fund for the Feminist Majority, N.O.W., and The Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.

We'll put them in a room with the doctors and the representatives can tell the doctors what resources they have available. Then the doctors will be allowed to ask any questions they want. We want to develop a lot of strategy.

Q: Who has committed, so far?

A: Right now I have Ellie Smeal, Janet Benshoof, possibly Kitty Kolbert, and maybe, Patricia Ireland. This will be a practical, hands on conference. No one is coming to give speeches.

Q: This is also just for doctors.

A: Yes, but the memorial will be public. I've already had a call from the BBC. I think what's attracting media is we're "going into the belly of the beast".

Q: That was my next question. Putting all those abortion providers in one place is a real invitation to violence. What about security?

A: When I began thinking about this event, security was the first issue that popped into my mind. I made a number of phone calls to doctors and asked them how they felt about this. The unanimous response I got was, "We're doing this for David. We're not going to back down. We're not going to be driven out. We'll let the chips fall where they may."

However, we are thoroughly investigating the security issue. One thing in our favor is the amphitheater is private property. John Burt and his friends can't get very close to the site, but we are working with private security companies and the police to do all we can to insure peace is maintained. This is not meant to be a divisive, confrontational event. We just want the public to remember the sacrifice that David made. His favorite song was, We Won't Back Down, by Tom Petty. That's going to be the theme of the weekend.

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