I'M SICK.

Sick at heart that another family stands vigil at a hospital bed, their future rerouted by the path of a bullet, their days newly mired in grief.

Sick that it happens to anyone, and especially sick that it's happened to the family of Lance Haver.

On Saturday, his 24-year-old adopted son, Daren Dieter, was paralyzed when a bullet tore through his spinal cord. This sweet and playful artist will never walk again or breathe on his own, the doctors have said.

Just another shooting in a city in which a cop and a toddler were shot in the same week - so commonplace that it went unnoticed until yesterday.

How many lives destroyed by guns go unnoticed when only the dead get attention?

And if this shooting doesn't do it - if it doesn't incite us to demand that our legislators pass sane gun laws - then I don't know what will.

Because Lance Haver is a man of utmost decency and humanity who's been fighting battles for us all of his life.

Whether it's against transit hikes, utility cut-offs, health-insurance mergers or anything else that's burdensome or unfair, the city's director of consumer affairs has fought on our behalf.

Now it's our turn to fight for him.

What, I asked Haver, can people do?

"The first thing people could do is to contact their elected officials and say it's time to end the flow of illegal handguns," Haver said yesterday from the hospital.

"The devastation to Daren's life and our lives has been caused by the people who refuse to see the damage that illegal handguns cause, and a federal government that would rather kill people in Iraq than spend money to develop a cure for spinal cord injuries."

Haver noted, typically, though, that his family was "lucky" to be able to afford the best health care for his son.

At a moment when most of us would be justifiably self-absorbed and wallowing in self-pity, Haver acknowledged those who weren't as "lucky" as his family.

His voice cracked as he talked about Daren's "heroic" response to the shooting, demonstrated by his reaction when told he was permanently paralyzed.

In the arduous communication system the family hastily arranged, Daren blinked at letters as his brother, Ramsey, held up alphabet cards.

"Does this mean I will be a genius?" he said. At the very worst moment of his life, he was making a joke: referring to Stephen Hawking, a brilliant physicist disabled by ALS.

"My son was one of the sweetest people you'd ever want to meet," Lisa Haver said, catching herself speaking in the past tense.

"He's talented, he was an artist and photographer. He loved to do silkscreening. He was very creative and had a lot of ideas. He's 24 years idea and those ideas could have come to fruition. But now . . . "

Lisa Haver was composed on the phone from the hospital but said when she goes home at night and reality sets in, "the feelings are not describable. Not describable. It's horrible."

So, now what?

Pick up the phone, said Phil Goldsmith, head of Ceasefire PA.

Call Gov. Rendell, he said, (717-787-2500), who's verbally endorsed proposed gun-reform legislation such as one-gun-a-month laws and requirements to report stolen guns but not pushed the bills. "It's time for him to spend political capital on this issue," Goldsmith said.

Then call Speaker of the House Dennis O'Brien, (717-787-4610), a Philadelphian who's "done nothing on this issue," Goldsmith said, suggesting that voters could potentially put his career in jeopardy.

"He has to understand there's going to be a price to be paid when people are getting paralyzed, people are getting killed, people are getting shot."

Then call Attorney General Tom Corbett (717-787-3391), who's made it easier for guns to come into the state by recognizing gun licenses from other states with even less restrictive laws, he said. Citizens need to become engaged and speak out on this issue, Goldsmith said.

"I firmly believe that if we galvanize people to do that, we can change the laws."

And that will help a man who's spent his life helping us.

"I'm too old to believe that every story has a happy ending," Lance Haver said, "but it doesn't mean we can't do the best we can with each tragedy that comes our way." *

E-mail porterj@phillynews.com or call 215-854-5850. For recent columns:

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