Monday, October 30, 2023

Q&A with Griffin Dix




Griffin Dix is the author of the new book Who Killed Kenzo: The Loss of a Son and the Ongoing Battle for Gun Safety. He has taught at Santa Clara University and was research director at MacWEEK. He became a gun safety activist after the death of his son in 1994. 


Q: First of all, I wanted to express my condolences on the loss of your son. Why did you decide to write Who Killed Kenzo?


A: This book is the story of my own personal journey, which began in May 1994, when I learned that my son Kenzo had been shot unintentionally and killed by his good friend.


At first, my wife, Lynn, and I thought his death was caused only by the mistakes the boy’s father had made—such as keeping his gun loaded and unlocked where his son could get it—and by Kenzo’s friend—such as going to get the gun, thinking he’d unloaded it, and pulling the trigger.


But we soon began to learn there was much more to Kenzo’s death. Guns were marketed as “protection,” but in fact they were seldom used in self-defense and increased the risk of suicide, homicide, and unintentional gun deaths in homes.


There were many loopholes in our gun laws that made it easy for the gun industry to sell unsafe guns. I began thinking, “Hey, people should know about all this.”


Then, with the help of a brilliant lawyer from the Brady Center, my wife and I sued Beretta USA. Ours was the first lawsuit to argue that a gun is defective without adequate safety features. I realized that not many people get to see up close the people that they think are responsible for their son’s death and hear them try to defend themselves in court.


Ultimately, three trials stretching over 10 years brought face-to-face in court lawyers from one of the nation’s largest gun violence prevention organizations versus leaders of the gun industry to argue over who was responsible for Kenzo’s death.


Although we ultimately lost in court, our case helped other cases against gun makers win. I thought people should know about this as well.


As the trials against Beretta USA were ongoing, I learned that the best way to manage my anger and stress was to work with others, who, like me, were passionate about preventing gun violence.


Thankfully, I joined a remarkable gun safety coalition in California which in 1999 succeeded in passing the Unsafe Handgun Act, SB 15, setting safety standards for handguns sold in California.


A few years later, in 2003 we passed SB 489, requiring chamber-loaded indicators on new models of semi-automatic handguns sold in California, a bill dear to my heart. If the gun that killed Kenzo had had a prominent chamber-loaded indictor, he would likely be alive today.


Both of these laws helped bring down rates of unintentional gun death in California, and even in the rest of the nation by about two-thirds, when the safer handguns were sold there as well.


In 1993, there were over 1,500 unintentional gun deaths nationally, according to the CDC. By 2021 and 2022, there were about 500. Gun safety legislation can reduce the number of unintentional gun deaths. I felt I needed to tell that story as well.

Q: Kris Brown, the president of Brady United Against Gun Violence, said of the book, “This book shows how one man, and a small coalition can truly change the world.” What do you think of that description?


A: That’s very generous of her, but I would say “This book shows how one man working with a small coalition can truly change the world,” but even that’s an exaggeration.


However, I would like to focus on five factors that made our small California gun violence prevention coalition, if not world-changing, highly influential and effective:


Many of our members are victims or survivors of gun violence whose experience has motivated them to become strong legislative advocates and lobbyists.


We are part of an ongoing organization with a paid staff dedicated to mobilizing victims and others.


We work with lawyers dedicated to passing sensible gun laws that reduce gun deaths and injuries.


We greatly benefit from objective public health research on how gun violence can be reduced.


Our coalition includes partnerships with other national, state, and local gun violence preventions organizations, as well as with organizations whose focus is not primarily gun violence prevention.

Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?


A: I want to inform readers that firearms are the leading cause of death of children and teens in America, but with collective action, we can help prevent these gun deaths and injuries.


After Kenzo was killed, I met many parents whose children had been shot, and I learned that what happened to Kenzo was not so unusual.


Our courtroom battles against Beretta USA gave me an opportunity to share with readers both sides of a fascinating, ongoing American debate.


My book is not a one-sided “gun control” diatribe. But the loss of Kenzo and my experiences during the trials and working on legislation as part of a coalition led me to the conclusion that the gun industry and its lobby were major causes of his death.


I found that the gun industry is driven by profit. It uses fear and misleading statements to sell guns as protection, although a gun in the home triples the risk of suicide and doubles the risk of a homicide, especially when the guns lack common sense safety features.


I met many people who are opposing these threats to families and their communities by joining coalitions and taking collective action. I found them inspiring and saw how they can be effective at passing laws that reduce gun violence. That is primarily what I would like readers to take away from the book.

Q: What impact did it have on you to write the book?


A: I think that the long process of writing the book was helpful to me. I’m an anthropologist by training. After Kenzo died, I wanted to understand in full why it happened and share that with others. Gun safety became my passion.


But the stress from the trials and all I was learning affected me. I began to feel chest pains. Eventually I had to have eight stents inserted by my cardiologist. But my activism and working on this book gave my life a positive and meaningful purpose and alleviated my anger and stress. I found that process healing.

Q: What are you working on now?


A: Right now, I’m going here and there giving readings from my book. But I will continue to write op-eds and other stories about new issues in gun violence prevention, as they come up. (See:


The subtitle of my book is The Ongoing Battle for Gun Safety, and we have a long way to go to make our nation safe from gun suicide, gun homicide, unintentional shootings, mass shootings, domestic violence with firearms, etc.


This book is being published at a time when gun sales and gun deaths are at or near historically high levels. As mentioned, guns are the leading cause of death of American children and teens.


In 2022, the number of children shot and killed increased by almost 12 percent, and the number wounded increased by almost 11 percent. People affected by gun violence are in every region of our country and every class of our society.


Despite our success in forcing the gun industry to make handguns somewhat safer, many of them are still unsafe in their design, and too many firearms are still unsafely stored.


Unsafe gun storage is partly the result of mixed messages put out by organizations like the NRA, as explained in my book. We can still do more to make our families safe without banning guns or interfering with people’s rights.

Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I just got back from a brief conference on gun violence prevention and was delighted to see so many young people, with energy and enthusiasm, joining this cause.


They are already knowledgeable and dedicated, and best of all, they are making our work together not just necessary and meaningful, but fun. That may be a surprise to some.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb


  1. Thank you Deborah Kalb for asking thought-provoking questions.

    1. You're very welcome, and many thanks for your thoughtful answers.