1. Archive

Son takes up dead doctor's cause

Published Oct. 6, 2005

Long before his father was murdered in front of the abortion clinic where he worked, David Gunn Jr. supported abortion rights.

But it wasn't until that day last March that Gunn realized that being supportive wasn't going to be enough. He would have to take action.

Dr. David Gunn was killed during an anti-abortion demonstration as he made his way to work, when Michael Griffin, a fundamentalist Christian demonstrator, pumped three bullets into his back.

Saturday, Griffin was sentenced to life in prison for the murder.

Before Dr. Gunn was shot, the abortion battle had escalated, and he had started traveling with three guns for protection. He told his son he was worried and that things were getting tense.

"I knew things were bad," he said. "I had given him rides to clinics before, but I didn't know things in Pensacola were as bad as they were."

March 10, 1993, the day his father died on the lawn of Pensacola Medical Services, Gunn's phone started ringing. As the first death connected to escalated violence at clinics, Dr. Gunn's death drove a wedge further between the two sides of the national abortion debate.

The networks called. Newspapers called. Donahue called.

He has testified before Congress, led rallies and traveled the country speaking at seminars and conferences on women's issues and abortion rights.

Since his father's death, David Gunn has been thrust into the national spotlight, a place the 23-year-old English major is not all that comfortable being.

"But I'll do it as long as they want me to because I think it's really important," he said. "I don't want to see any more doctors getting killed or hurt. Doctors should not have to wear bulletproof vests to work. I don't think that's too much to ask."

Next week Gunn will speak to the National Coalition of Abortion Providers and will open Pensacola's Rock for Choice Concert, which headlines the popular rock group Pearl Jam.

Last week, he sat through his father's killer's murder trial.

Meanwhile, he's trying to keep up with his Spanish, and he's reading two Shakespeare plays so he can graduate later this year.

The trial was difficult to sit through, he said. It was hard to look at Griffin across the courtroom and not show any emotion.

"It's hard to look at the man who killed your dad and not show utter disdain," he said.

And each day at the courthouse he would have to file in and out of the courtroom with people who believe murder of abortion doctors is justified. Some of those in the courtroom held news conferences calling the elder Gunn a murderer who justice was served upon when Griffin shot him. To that element, Griffin was a hero.

Yet each morning, Gunn politely said hello and wished them a nice day.

"I see these guys everywhere, at rallies, here," he said. "I feel like I know them. They want you to hate them, and they can't stand it when you don't confront them. What they stand for is damnable, I don't justify it with a rebuttal."

Dr. Gunn was known as a dedicated father and doctor. He has often been described as passionate in his belief in a woman's right to choose.

Now it's David who must be passionate. When he first started speaking in public, he says, he was intimidated. He still stumbles over his words from time to time, but he's getting used to having a microphone stuck in his face and answering questions for newscasts or Court TV or the National Organization for Women.

He has been working closely with NOW, The Feminist Majority and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League to get the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act passed in Congress.

"I'm really doing everything I can for that," he said. "That bill is so important. If that was already the law, my dad might still be alive."

His sister, 19-year-old Wendy, hopes to someday be a doctor. She is just beginning to take an activist role regarding the abortion issue too. She'll join David at the Pearl Jam concert, but she's more comfortable letting her brother take the spotlight.

"Before my father was killed, no one cared what I thought," he said. "For now they care, and as long as they do, I'll tell them."