How to Respect Gun Violence Survivors on Social Media

A friend of mine requested that I write about this topic, and after seeing a video that’s been circulating my social media lately, I decided it was time.

When you are a shooting survivor, there are certain things that are hard to see in your feed. At least, there are for me, and I’ve heard the same from other survivors.

I’m not asking people to tiptoe around, always trying to figure out what to share in their feed without upsetting someone. Sometimes, things need to be shared that I personally can’t watch, because they’re important for other people to see.

But, here’s the best, BEST thing you can do. If you know that you know a shooting survivor, and you want to share something in your feed that:

  • Directly mentions a shooting
  • Depicts/discusses gun violence themes
  • Depicts/discusses graphic violence (bombings in Syria, for example)

Then I encourage you to send that person a private message, and ask – “should I share this? How can I share this?”

The messages I have appreciated most from friends are when friends have messaged me to alert me that a shooting has happened, so to be careful on my feed. Or to alert me of a particular video I should be careful watching. Or they message me to ask what kind of trigger warning they should put on something before sharing.

These all mean a lot to me and are extremely helpful, because then I can:

  • Make a decision about whether to be on social media that day
  • Make a decision about whether I am okay to view a certain video/read a post
  • Makes me feel considered and protected on my social media account because I know they are thinking about how to label things

On top of all that, I of course do a lot of my own screening for self care. I almost never watch videos out of Syria, for instance, because one of my biggest triggers is children screaming/people in distress. I can’t deal with it, so I choose not to watch it.

Even with doing my own screening, however, I can’t even explain my level of gratitude when I know that people are watching out for me on social media. I so appreciate when they send me a message to ask about how to share or whether to share something. Because one of the shittiest things for me is to be surprised by something in my feed. Getting blindsided by something is a part of a trigger for me, too… there’s a huge element of surprise and sneak attack involved in a shooting, and that’s hard to deal with. So it honestly feels PROTECTIVE for me when people are looking out for my wellbeing.

I also want to address the current video circulating. I’ve seen it mainly from Buzzfeed. It depicts a cute relationship beginning between a boy and girl scratching words into a desk. I (THANKFULLY) knew that the content required a trigger warning before watching it (Thank you, Lauren), or I would have freaked out. At the end, out of nowhere it is revealed that in the background, a student has been planning a shooting all along.

The problematic part of this video for me is the -out of nowhere- piece. There is a significant part of a shooting that is the unexpected factor; someone just starts shooting “out of nowhere.” You get blindsided. In my event, I never even saw the shooter and so there’s an aspect of “out of my field of vision” that’s really triggering for me personally, also.

If I had watched this video without a trigger warning, I would have had a breakdown. It just so happens this video is also circulating this week, and on Friday this week I have the 9th anniversary of my shooting. I don’t always know where I’m going to be emotionally during what I call “anniversary/hell week”, and so it was particularly helpful to have a trigger warning this week. Furthermore – the Sandy Hook shooting anniversary is on December 14th. There are lots of survivors out there right now.

So, with that in mind, I’m asking/imploring you to share this video with a content or trigger warning. Wording like “Trigger Warning: Gun violence/mass shooting” is helpful. Or even “themes of mass shooting.” Something to let us survivors know whether we should choose to watch it or not.  It helps us to feel more protected out in the world, which is sometimes a daily struggle. I think I can speak for more than just me when I say that we would all appreciate your thoughtfulness.

 

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Terror Attack or Shooting? – A Poem

Trigger Warning: Mass shootings, gun violence, graphic depictions of violence.
I wrote this poem in response to the talk about the Pulse Orlando shooting being a terror attack because it was perpetrated by “possibly a Muslim”. As a shooting survivor, I have a lot of feelings about that.

Do not tell me what is a terror attack or what isn’t.
You do not know the ice of hearing windows shatter
You do not know the terror of hearing sister is shot
You know nothing of what bullets sound like hitting human flesh
or the screaming of your sisters
or the desperation of being on a phone to a 911 operative
begging them to come because my sisters have been shot
because my twin is lying in front of me on the floor of a minivan
with blood streaming out her nose
and she looks like she’s asleep but she won’t wake up
Do not tell me it is not terror
to try to hide behind a leather seat
to see bullets hitting windshield
to not see where they are coming from
to watch father fall to ground from one piercing him
to want it all to stop, stop, stop
but the bullets are ringing over and over and over
there is so much noise
time is so slow but it keeps going
do not tell me it is not terror
to rip a scarf from your body to try to stop twin sister’s bleeding
to have to look your twin over for an exit wound
do not tell me it is not terror to not have her answer you
to hear your mother saying “I can’t find a bullet hole
I can’t find one, oh God I can’t find one”
do not tell me it is no terror to stumble out of the car
to see other sister on the ground
with face blue from lack of oxygen
to feel your heart fall apart into your stomach as you know she is dying
to have to run from her because the shooter could be returning
to feel your soul is being ripped from your body
because your sisters’ souls are leaving you
do not tell me it is not terror
to wait for news of which hospitals they went to
to know on the way there that twin sister is gone
because you don’t feel her soul next to yours anymore
to watch a policeman speak what you already know while he is trying not to cry
do not tell me it is not terror
when father comes out of surgery, silently looks at you all
looking for the people missing
looks at you and asks where your twin is
and mother is quiet and says nothing so your mouth has to open
you say the worst words you have ever said
“Dad, Stephanie is gone.”
Do not tell me it is not terror
to stand by other sister’s bedside begging for her to come back to you
to sing all of her favorite songs in a desperate attempt for the bullet not to win
to try to cry it out of her heart and take the bullet into your own heart instead
to ask her to please not leave you alone here
do not tell me it is not terror to have the doctors
come out to waiting room to tell you that other sister is gone
that she has left you here alone despite all your begging

you say that a mass shooting is not a terror attack
unless it happens to have a Muslim face behind it
I want to tell you to fuck yourself and wait until you live one.

Doing Something With My Heartbreak

I’ve been away for awhile, but it’s not because I’m sittin’ around, feet up, with a nice cold one in my hand.

I have never been one to do nothing with my heartbreak.

I believe in doing something with what I say. The people closest to me will tell you that my biggest pet peeve is that when someone says something, and then doesn’t follow through on what they say. I refuse to be one of those people.

Remember how I wrote at the end of last year on how to support victims after a mass shooting? And how I also wrote at the end of last year about creating dialogue around gun violence?

Well, I’ve been working very, very hard on things to follow up on both of those. I’ve been a busy little bee, community organizing and meeting amazing people throughout the community.

One of the things that I am helping to head up around creating dialogue is happening this month. On April 17th at 2pm, in my neighborhood, we will be having a silent walk to commemorate victims of gun violence.

Why my neighborhood? Because I live in the Shooks Run Neighborhood, where on October 31, 2015, a man open carried an AR-15, opened fire, and killed 3 people before being killed by police.

It struck close to my heart, in some ways literally and in some ways figuratively. I had to take a month to feel it all.

Needless to say, it’s definitely a part of why I haven’t written. Heartbreak comes in waves. I had to wait out the tide. And the timing was really hard, too, because only weeks before, I’d written my letter to Congress.

Then 27 days later, impossibly, there was another shooting, this time at Planned Parenthood about 2 miles away from me. For the 2nd time in 27 days, my city was on national news. My heart broke.

But with my heartbreak, I did something. I started a GoFundMe and was amazed as the community stepped forward. We raised $1000 in 4 hours over social media to take catered Panera Bread to staff at both hospitals where victims were taken.

I needed my time to grieve… but I have never been one to do nothing with heart break.

Then an opportunity came in early December for me to join a group of artists and community organizers in Colorado Springs. They were all interested in reclaiming safe space, and I jumped at it. The overall heartfelt response from the group was an interest creating de-politicized, safe space around the common heartache that everyone shares around gun violence.

This, honestly, was the only reason I even joined the group. Since the Planned Parenthood shooting, I’ve been very careful not to have much of any political conversation around gun violence. There was so much infighting after that shooting. I wasn’t ready to speak until I had a safe place to speak in. I wanted to be part of a group that brought a safe place to explore the heartache beneath the positions.

The amazing organizers at Common Space Collective that I’m working with are creating that safe space.

And we want to reclaim our common space, so we’re going to have a silent walk.

April 17, 2pm. Corner of Kiowa and El Paso. Walking through the neighborhood taking the same route that the shooter took. Ending at First Congregational Church for a short workshop on how to listen.

This is my town. These are my people. My neighborhood. And I’m doing something like this because I believe in it. I have never been a person to just believe in something without putting action to my beliefs. This is my way to say, to myself and my community – “You are safe here. We’re here with you.”

Join me?


 

RSVP to the Facebook Event here: Silent Walk Honoring Victims of Gun Violence
For more information on Common Space Collective, go here: Common Space Collective

And stay tuned here at my site, more announcements to come!

Supporting Victims in the Aftermath of COS Shootings

On Saturday, I was approached by a community leader wanting to know victim and community impact after a shooting. As a shooting survivor, I have an intimate view on victim support after a mass shooting. And in light of both of the recent shootings here in Colorado Springs, I wanted to let the community know how victims are impacted, and how to move forward.

This is a long post in Q&A format. I kept it long because I feel these ideas are important.

How do secondary victims get help despite being secondary?
First, let’s define what a so-called “secondary” victim is. Victims can often be people you aren’t even aware of. They’re of course the people we quickly think of – friends and family of those who were killed (primary). But there are many others – “secondary”.

For instance: there were people that watched either shooter kill his victims. There were people that heard the gunfire of either event. There were people that lived on the streets where the Halloween shooter began or enacted his rampage (I happen to live on that street myself). There were the hundreds of people who had to shelter in place in the Centennial shopping center on Friday afternoon for 5 hours. There were the hostages that were trapped inside Planned Parenthood until the police were able to extricate them.

In other words, there are a LOT of victims. And it’s easy for them to go under the radar, because unless the news media exploits their story (and I do mean exploit, I’ll explain later) they are unknown to the public.

If you are friends with either a primary or secondary victim, it’s important to know that the experience most likely changed their life forever in some way shape or form. Right now is a time for you to know some mental health first aid:

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If you don’t know what to say – don’t say anything. The BEST thing you can do is to be present, gentle and supportive. Cliched statements such as “well, everything happened for a reason” are much more harmful than helpful.

If you or someone you know was a victim and need more professional help, there is a Community Crisis Recovery Center set up right now to provide resources. If the victim is in the police report, they could be eligible to have mental health costs covered by the 4th Judicial District Victims Assistance Fund (also present at the Community Crisis Recovery Center).

If not covered, many therapists work on a sliding scale – I am putting together a list of COS Trauma Therapists here. AspenPointe also has a 24/7 Community Crisis unit. And if you are on the UCCS campus, utilize the Counseling Center. They have many quality LPCs and PhDs that can provide effective counseling or mental health services.

Also, of great service to me has been the Rebels Project online Facebook group. It is a group for victims of mass shootings and traumatic events to share their experiences with people who understand. This has given me personally a lot of support when I am triggered or processing something.

If you are a secondary victim, your experience is no less important or impactful than if you were a primary victim. If you are feeling fragile and jumpy, it’s okay to get help. If you are feeling frozen or numb, it’s okay to get help. Tell close family and friends what is going on. Ask for support. Find a good therapist. The better support you have, the more likely you will be to emotionally recover.

 

How can the community engage with this somewhat new reality?

It’s important to be aware of mental health first aid, especially knowing that there are many people impacted that you’re unaware of. Be aware that people will have a variety of triggers.

Mine, for instance, are screaming, loud bangs, and men who are behaving in a erratic way. I can also get triggered by news of new mass shootings, if I read the news too much. Sometimes I have to stay off social media after news of mass shootings. I used to also be triggered by sirens, emergency vehicles, and car accidents as well. Other people will have different triggers.

If you know a victim (primary or secondary) be very aware of this. Don’t shut them down for reacting in certain ways. If they literally run away from situations, if they hide from certain things, if they freak out for no reason, this is ALL normal. Those are ALL things that I have done.

Be very cognizant of what you say. For instance, there is a lot of talk right now about how college campuses utilize trigger warnings. It helped me immensely to have trigger warnings. I went to college after my sisters were murdered, and it was by far the place I felt most unsafe. I had a professor who warned the class about a video interview with a serial killer. I was extremely grateful because then I could choose to leave class before sitting there in shock.

I also experienced one of my worst triggers in a class in which a professor made an extremely inappropriate joke about the Aurora shootings. I was dissociated and couldn’t pay attention at all for about 20 minutes. So be sensitive to survivor experience.

Another huge thing is to realize that we will be dealing with this for years to come. It’s been 8 years and I still have triggers, albeit fewer than I did even 2 years ago. As a community, it’s important to ensure that supports remain in place on a continual basis.

We often forget the massive impact of traumatic events because of the media’s short cycle. Realize the victims are probably still processing in some way, shape, or form, even years later. Churches, community organizations, businesses, and schools should be especially aware of this as they endeavor to support their members.

And for the general population – if someone shares with you that they were affected by these events and are still processing, suspend judgment and just be present to their story. Listening and providing your emotional support (without having to say much beyond “I’m here”) is the best thing you can do. But, don’t be afraid to ask what happened! It helps after the media spotlight goes away to know people still care. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?

 

While many people have an experience of losing a loved one, how is this different when it is in the public eye?

This changes the experience drastically. There is a whole set of expectations that comes with your tragedy being seen by the whole world (or your whole town, state, etc). Here are some expectations I’ve had placed on me, and my responses.

People (especially the media) expecting victims to tell their storyNo one is constrained to tell their story publicly, even if the media covered the event. It’s up to the person involved. We as victims make the final call on whether we share or not. But, DO feel free to ask us as victims about what happened. A good way to ask is, “Do you feel comfortable sharing what happened?” This leaves it open for us to say yes or no. Often the “yes” or “no” depends upon how safe we feel sharing with you.

People expecting victims to react a certain way emotionally when telling their story (crying, being very upset, etc). – Everyone deals with things differently, and trauma can further distort that. Just because I’m not crying doesn’t mean I’m not upset. But if I’m crying that doesn’t mean I’m falling apart, either. Maybe I’m just having a rough day. Suspend judgment about reactions and realize all of our stories are different.

People having certain ideas about what victims are going through, based on media reports.As victims, we may or may not be shattered by what happened. We may or may not be “over it and stronger as a result.” The media does not reflect our personal feelings most of the time.

People having assumptions about victims beliefs/politics based on media reports or where the event occurred.In my shooting, just because it was at a church doesn’t mean I’m still a Christian. Just because an armed guard took down the shooter doesn’t mean I’m pro/anti concealed carry. Victim beliefs and politics are not necessarily in line with public assumption. Just because a victim’s shooting happened at Planned Parenthood, or as a result of open carry, doesn’t mean their specific beliefs/politics align with the popular assumptions carried around those places or ideas. Be careful to not assume stories based on media representation or current political climate. Let victims tell the stories. Our beliefs are not a way to further a political platform, unless we choose to use them that way ourselves.

People seeing the fact that victims do sometimes choose to tell their story publicly, and telling them that “they’re so strong” for being able to do so.What you see in a victim may not be strength or peace. It may be shock. My repetition of the story immediately afterwards looked like strength, because I didn’t break down and cry. As a matter of fact, it was not strength or peace, it was shock.

Not being able to have your private grief, because the media is looking at you – but then when media moves away, feeling abandoned – When the media is around, the public is completely involved in victim’s private grief. But conversely, when the media turns away, it can feel like the whole world has forgotten about you. Both suck. When it’s public, I felt like I couldn’t grieve the way I wanted. When the media turned away, I felt like my grief didn’t matter. It’s a catch 22. In this situation as a community, we can make sure we continue to support all victims of these tragedies months and YEARS to come (recovery takes years, my friends).

 

 

With the sharing of information at our fingertips, entities are constantly trying to beat each other to this “social equity” , up to the point of obtaining it within minutes of an incident or positive ID.  Have you experienced the feeling of someone using your experience for their gain in social capital? 

Yes. The media especially is skilled with this. I’ve recently chosen to begun sharing my experiences more in the media, in the interest of shutting down the “sides” mentality we have around gun issues and encouraging more dialogue. (This is my position, not necessarily the position of other victims of shootings) When I share, I find my words get skewed. I am often made to sound more traumatized than I actually am. People love disaster stories; I call it disaster porn.

An example: I have widely shared the Gazette article I was recently in because it maintains my greater point, but some of the material was skewed. For instance, I did not hear sirens when I delivered food to the Penrose ER on Saturday morning. [Editthe Gazette has since edited the article]

People often use victim’s stories to further their own aims or viewership. I implore you, local media – please do not exploit victim’s stories to improve your ratings. Be compassionate and aware. And as a community, we all need to be careful that we don’t exploit victims for our own ideas or political platforms.

Are victims of gun violence also a victim of the current politics of gun violence?  Can it be a double whammy (victimized from all sides)? Is there additional impact when the violence speaks from other political arenas?

In a word, yes. This is a huge area where the media can take advantage of victims. Currently, the media tends to portray sides within the politics of gun violence – pro-gun or ban guns. I personally have expressed a middle view of dialogue first, action or possible reform second. I have to be extremely careful how I word this, because if I don’t word it correctly, the media will portray me as being on one side or the other.

After I wrote my letter to Congress, many responses were revictimizing. The worst were people asking me about the armed guard Jeanne Assam that took down Matthew Murray in my shooting. Several people asked me why she didn’t play into what I wrote.

Their questions were indicative of wanting to convert me for one side or the other in the debate (in this case, pro/anti concealed carry). Problem being, they were not at New Life Church that day, and I was. Their attempt to tell me what to believe/write about was revictimizing. It was an attempt to steal my voice as a victim and to use me to further their own politics.

I can’t speak for the victims in these past two shootings. However, my experience has been that victims have a variety of political views, just like the general public does. Therefore:

It is not up to the public to assume any victim’s stance by seeing their status (i.e. police officer), situation (i.e. shooter openly carrying rifle) or where they were on that day (i.e. Planned Parenthood clinic). None of these things give us any real insight on victims’ political views or beliefs, and to assume and place labels on them is to revictimize them.

It is up to the victims of these shootings to state their political beliefs if they so choose. Until then, no assumption should be made about where they stand on any issues. All assumptions made are an act of re-victimization and the public stealing the victim’s voices for their own aims.

 

I want to end with this: Most importantly, we are a community and we need to step forward and support our victims. We need to be sensitive to what they need right now, and careful to not re-traumatize or re-victimize. Between Halloween and the Planned Parenthood shooting, there are hundreds of victims who need us right now. These are just some simple ways that we as a community can support them for the months and years to come.


 

If there are any other questions that anyone is interested in, I am willing to write a follow up post. Please leave your questions in the comments. Commenters from Colorado Springs will have priority.

I’m also interested to hear any other thoughts or in put on this – please share!

 

 

Let’s Talk… About Gun Control

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For the last couple of weeks since I wrote my letter to Congress, I’ve been trying to foster dialogue with the people of the Internet and the people of my city (hello, Colorado Springs!).

This has not been easy.

A lot of the replies that I’ve received via my blog or Twitter account have been painful. Painful is a strange word to use, but that is what comes up when I transcend the flash of anger that appears when I first hear certain things: pain.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the armed citizen that stopped the shooter in your shooting?” As if I didn’t realize she was a part of my story.
When people assert that people are the problems, not guns. As if it were not bullets that killed my sisters.
When people say that laws don’t dissuade criminals. As if they don’t set norms in society of what violence equates to, as if they didn’t set the norm that the shooter adhered to.

The list goes on. Each of these replies first pierces my heart and honestly? I want to lash out.

I want to be the same exact person I see all over Twitter. Insulting, and raging, and cursing at people I disagree with. Sometimes, I admit it, I degrade to being that exact person because it hurts so damn much.

But if I can take a step back and look at it for a second, if I get curious, something happens that changes everything.

I meet people.

I’ve heard so many stories in the past 2 weeks. Stories that I am honored to carry, and that you can go read in the comments of my blog. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I would have called “the enemy”, had I continued to react out of pain.

At this point, that means much more to me than being right. I don’t want to be on the “right” side of this discussion. I want to truly meet people and hear their heart.

So while I’m now going to tell you about some of my personal beliefs about gun violence, I want to ask that you do the same. Tell me your stories. And tell me WHY you have them. What beliefs are behind your stories? I’ll trade you, okay? But let’s be people first, and issues secondary to that. Meet me here – I promise to hold your story in a safe place in my heart.

1) What about the “armed citizen” who stopped your shooting?

Several people have asked why I didn’t mention her in my letter. Here’s the simple truth: she didn’t factor into my letter. My letter was about me, what I saw and experienced. I wasn’t her. I didn’t take the shooter down. Am I grateful to her?

Here’s my story. I remember clearly when someone came and told me that the shooter had been stopped. I instantly felt weak with relief. I never wanted him dead. I just wanted him stopped. So yes. I am grateful to her. I’m grateful she was trained enough to stop him.

The follow up question to that is, what DO I think about armed civilians?

This is tricky for me. And I think there is two parts to this, because I live in a state that allows open carry as well as concealed. So I’ll address both.

a) Are you against conceal carry?

My short answer: no. I think I speak to that in my letter. I asked people to think about their responsibility if they chose to carry, and here’s what I mean by that. Imagine your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend laying dead on the ground from a gunshot. Think about the horror and pain that would cause you. And then think about whether you could inflict that harm on someone else. If you can then I think you know the responsibility of carrying and should be allowed to do so. I know there are people who can do this, because I’ve talked to them in my blog comments.

Another thing I want people who conceal carry for protection to think about. Adrenaline. I promise you, you have no idea what adrenaline will add to the situation until you are actually smack dab in the middle of it. Adrenaline also does weird things to your body. When my sisters were killed, I thought I heard shots coming from one direction. It turns out that the shots were coming from the exact opposite direction as I had supposed. Don’t underestimate the role of adrenaline. If you want to carry and you want to carry for self-protection, train in situations where you are guaranteed to feel adrenaline.

b) Do you think open carry should be allowed?

No.

Why? Here’s one simple reason. As a gun violence survivor, it is extremely triggering for me to see someone carrying their gun in public. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a man open carrying at my laundromat. It was terrifying.

Honestly, I am wracking my brain to think of a reason to carry openly what you could easily conceal under your jacket or shirt. And seriously, if you think of one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll gladly consider a good argument.

2) Is it the person, or the gun?

I think it’s both. I wrote about what I think goes on behind violence here. So yes, I think violent people are violent. BUT, I also think it’s the gun, because a gun provides an ease in killing other that no other easily-owned weapon provides. (so, I’m not talking tanks, bombs, drones, etc) There is no other weapon that makes it just THAT easy to kill someone, and that is why I think it’s the gun, too.

3) What about regulation?

So, here’s where things get tricky and where I hear a LOT of contention. The very second I mention regulation, we all get angry (me included). I have lots of thoughts on regulation, and I’ll describe them in terms of my personal thoughts and feelings.

Here’s why I think universal background checks (UBCs) are a good idea: I feel safer knowing that we are aware of who is purchasing firearms and whether they are mentally or physically able. I can feel secure knowing that if someone owns a firearm, it’s for a good reason, and I will trust that person if they ever need to defend me.

[On this subject, can someone explain to me in the comments the issue that some of you have with form 4473 on the UBCs? Still trying to learn about this]

Here’s why I think and feel licensing firearms is a good idea: If firearms are licensed, I can safely know where the firearm has come from. I can know that the person legally acquired that firearm, and again, presumably is fit to use it. Therefore I feel safe around that person knowing that they have what it takes to own that firearm. THAT BEING SAID I also have some fear around it being used as surveillance, because things tend to get twisted like that in the US.

Here’s why I think and feel laws around gun use are a good idea: I don’t feel like laws are great at stopping criminals. But having a law about what gun use is legal makes me feel safe, because it establishes that certain kinds of violence are not okay in our society. If I know that the government thinks certain violence is not okay, I feel more secure because I feel the government takes that seriously, and will protect me and any citizen who is in a situation that goes against that law.

Here’s why I think Congress should get involved: From my understanding of things, through a variety of ways Congress is blocked from allowing research funding to go to the CDC for mass shootings. I want to know more about mass shootings so we can see predicates to them – what personality markers are indicators? What are common denominators? We know none of this, and it would make me feel much safer to base any legislation off of solid research.

And now, it’s your turn, because this is about dialogue.

I want to hear from you. But I want to hear from a different perspective. What I want to know is your WHY. Tell me about YOU – Why do you think and feel that background checks aren’t helpful? Why do you feel afraid, upset, angry about licensing firearms in general? What do you think the role of laws are in our society, and why do you feel strongly about not passing laws? YOU. Not just political ideologies here. Mainly – your stories and your heart.

I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

Dear Congress – Sincerely, A Mass Shooting Survivor

Dear Congress,

I write you today upon hearing the grave news that another heinous mass shooting has happened, this time in Roseburg, Oregon. We learned today that at least 10 people have lost their lives, and at least 7 have been injured.

I write you this letter so that you can see the face of a survivor.  I write you this letter as someone who saw with my own eyes the horror of a mass shooting, a shooting that took the lives of my twin and younger sister and injured my father at New Life Church in December 2007. And most importantly I write this letter to open a dialogue about the role that gun violence has played in our country.

I say specifically to open a dialogue, because I am not strictly anti-gun. I feel that I am in a unique place to address this issue. About 3 years ago, I took a class to obtain a conceal-carry permit. After having been a victim of gun violence once, I was terrified to face it again. I still have nightmares about shootings about once a month. The need to protect myself was strong. At the time I felt that a conceal carry permit was the only way to sufficiently do so.

However, once I finished the class, a thought began to pervade my mind. What if I had to actually do it, actually pull the trigger? What then? Could I? Should I?

I thought about seeing my twin Stephanie’s face just moments after she was shot. I thought about my sister Rachel who was gray when I passed her just outside our family car that day. And I knew in that moment I could never pull a trigger against another human. The human might be someone who did something horrific. Some think I might have been able to even stop the shooter who killed my sisters. But when it came down to it, I realized it didn’t matter how horrible the person was. They were human. They had a family – a brother or sister, parents, cousins. In retaliating with a gun, I would be inflicting the same violence on the shooter and his family, that the shooter inflicted on me the day he killed my sisters.

This changed my mind about getting a conceal carry permit. Since I could not personally take on the responsibility of another’s life, I chose not to carry at all. Many have argued that I don’t necessarily have to “kill” someone, or that I could use this permit while out on one of my many hikes to defend myself from animals. However to me, the potentiality is there for me to commit harm against a human, so I refuse to carry.

I do not share this story as a censure against conceal carry but rather to share my thought process. I am not against conceal carry as a whole. What I am against is the lack of foresight that goes into it, both from those who carry, and from our government. Our government in many instances does not background check either those who conceal carry or those who purchase guns.

Why? We know that these atrocities are committed on a regular basis. We know that guns especially can be used to commit violent and heinous crimes. And yet we have little system of checks and balances to prevent these crimes from occurring. Many who argue against gun control say that it is not the gun that is the problem, it is the person. But if we have no way of checking who the person is, the gun becomes the problem.

I must say again clearly, Congress, that too many people have not sufficiently thought through what gun ownership in this country entails. I address you as well as those people. You have not sufficiently thought about what the responsibility of owning a gun means. Therefore you do not regulate it sufficiently in our government system. Because you do not regulate it, others do not either. And we come to where we are today, where people have clearly said to me, “I conceal carry because I am afraid to be in a mass shooting and I need to protect myself.”

The role of a country is to protect its citizens. You have failed to do so and now citizens feel the need to protect themselves, not realizing that the cost of this may be in human lives.

I am appealing to you today not to repeal the 2nd amendment, not to take people’s guns, but to consider within yourselves your responsibility to your people. As I considered my own responsibility towards human dignity when I chose not to carry, I ask you now to consider your responsibility towards human dignity when it comes to guns in the United States. I ask you to bear the grave burden of human life on your shoulders and decide in yourselves what checks and balances can be made to sufficiently uphold its dignity.

I ask you to open a dialogue – to see the human faces of this issue. To see my face as a survivor. To see the faces of gun owners who feel the need to protect themselves. As the tradition of my childhood says in the Scriptures, “Come, let us reason together.” Let’s make this discussion human again.

Please, consider me, and all those who have survived. I ask you, please consider how to prevent these atrocities so that others will never have to say, “I survived seeing my friend, parent, sister, shot and killed.” Put yourself in my shoes, feel what it would be like to survive such terror. And ask yourselves what you can to do prevent this madness from continuing.

Sincerely,
A Mass Shooting Survivor


I would love to hear your thoughts and dialogue in the comments. Let’s start a conversation about this. And if you agree and want to add your voice, please share this post via social media. 

EDIT: I’ve begun a dialogue post here, come join!

Shell

I am sharing a very vulnerable piece of my heart today, over on the blogging collective I’m involved with: The Sisterwives.

I would love it if you would please go view this piece. It took a lot of guts for me, both to write it and to record it. It’s not something I often make public. But I wanted to share this with you all.

You can see it here: Shell