A Mass Shooting Survivor Pushes For Gun Control in Wake of Colorado Tragedy

5 years ago

The mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado last Friday hit especially close to home for me. In 1999, I was shot when an armed gunman walked into a Jewish Community Center day camp near Los Angeles California. There were five of us wounded and one who was killed. At the time, this was considered a mass shooting. It is crazy that now this is looked at as a small amount of victims. In the thirteen years since I was shot, mass shootings have not stopped, but become frighteningly more common.


Gun and handcuffs, Credit Image: Shutterstock


I was fortunate enough to survive the JCC shooting. But I have not forgotten. For the past 13 years, I have worked with the Brady Campaign, Women Against Gun Violence, and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to speak out and tell my story in an effort to try and prevent what happened to me from happening to others. It has been a goal since the day after I was shot to help create some common sense gun legislation. A few years ago, I even organized a 5K race in Los Angeles to raise money for victims of gun violence. I am currently the San Francisco chapter leader for the Brady Campaign. I wish that I could say that the work gun control advocates have done could have prevented a tragedy like Aurora from happening, but unfortunately our work is far from over.

I was 16 years old when I was shot, an age that can be extremely tough for an average girl. Add in an attempted murder, and it's a recipe for a disaster. It took a while for the post traumatic stress to play out in my life. When I attempted to go away to college, the bullets really did their damage. I suffered a breakdown and even stopped eating for a few months while my family watched in horror at the real affects a trauma can have on a young person.I had to drop out of college until I could really turn my life around, and I learned to understand how to gain control of my life. I told myself that the man who tried to kill me failed and I would not let him ruin any more of it. To this day, however, I still suffer from PTSD -- and events like Friday’s shooting bring me right back to the JCC again. The thought of looking for the emergency exit, the sounds of the shots firing, the helicopters above and the screams all come flooding back in an instance. And there I am, sixteen again, laying in a pool of blood playing dead in hopes that he wouldn't come and find me to finish me off.

In a strange twist of fate, this latest mass shooting is again connected to my life. Until very recently, the gunman, James Holmes, was a student at the University of Colorado, Denverwhere my sister is an administrator in the M.D.-Ph.D. program. Many of her students may have known him and some may have even been working in the hospital, treating the shooting victims. The theater is not far from my sister’s office and knowing this man was on the same campus as my young nephew (who is in day care) is terrifying. My brother-in-law, a math teacher at a school in Denver, had two students in the theater that night. I am relieved to know they are safe, but unfortunately know all too well the trauma they are going to face for the rest of their lives.

Tragedies like this will continue to repeat with the same senseless horror unless our political leaders wake up and take action. We know all too well the catastrophic damage gun violence can have on an individual, a family, and a community. Unfortunately, Colorado has seen this terror before, and in the 13 years since the tragedy at Columbine High School, what have we learned?

Gun-rights advocates say we should become an armed society. In March, the University of Colorado even started allowing guns on campus (a rule that my sister is actively engaged in trying to overturn); many are convinced that this would make for a better society. I would like to offer a counter argument to this disturbing idea.

First and foremost, many of these massacres take place on school campuses, where students should be focused on learning. Imagine the constant fear teachers, administrators and students would be living in if every person on campus were armed and could potentially shoot any visitors that come into the classroom just because they look suspicious or if they reach for a calculator in their pocket. Or what if a gun goes off because someone accidentally drops a backpack on the floor?

Someone once looked me in the eye and told me that if had I been carrying a gun in my backpack the day I was shot at the Jewish Community Center, I would have been a real hero. That I would have saved a man's life and none of the kids would have bullet holes in their bodies.

Those advice givers were not there. They cannot even begin to know what it was like in that center or what it was like at Virginia Tech in 2007 or in that Aurora, Colorado movie theater last week. They cannot tell me with 100% certainty that they would have done a better job than us during those terrifying times in our -- not their -- lives. To those people I would like to say a few things. What about the risk that my five-year-old campers could have taken the gun out and shot their other children?

Or take the tragedy at last Friday’s midnight screening of Batman -- the shooter was in head-to-toe body armor. Say, for instance, someone in the theater had a gun and shot back. With all the chaos that was going on -- tear gas in the air, sound from the film and screams of the victims -- would anyone have realistically been able to get close enough to him to make a dent, let alone make him stop shooting? Nope. Could the police determine that there was only one real credible threat inside that theater? Nope. And let's say if there were multiple weapons being drawn by theater patrons trying to "save the day," how many more than the 71 victims could have been shot? Hundreds. How many more than the 12 would be dead? Too horrible to try and count. If the shooter was killed himself, would we know that there were explosives in his home and to not barge in? Nope.

People are now saying that they are afraid to go to the movies. That fear will undoubtedly wear off in a few days or weeks. What I'm more worried about is that more people might start carrying weapons everywhere they go. Who would feel safe at the movies, knowing anyone around you could be armed at any moment? What if they fired at anyone who comes in late, or that annoying guy who accidentally leaves his cell phone on?

The reality is we have insanely lax gun laws, at both the state and federal levels. In certain states, including Colorado, people who should be receiving a full psychiatric evaluation before owning a gun can easily walk into their local sporting goods store and buy -- not just a hunting rifle -- but multiple assault weapons (including one with a 100 round capacity magazine) and shoot over 70 people in a few minutes time with only having to pass a 30 second background check with a flash of a drivers license. And the regulations may be even looser at gun shows. For more information about individual state gun laws as well as federal laws, please visit the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence website.

The Second Amendment clearly states:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Isn’t the U.S. military a well-regulated militia? What about the police department? And besides, why does an average citizen on the street need an assault rifle with a 100-round magazine? The entire intent with this weapon is to kill people, and kill a lot of people. There is no need for this and we as a society have the right to live in a country that creates laws preventing those from owning these types of weapons. THIS IS COMMON SENSE.

If you think about it, the concept that we are taking away the rights of Americans by stricter regulations in the purchase of weapons or magazines is wrong. By that line of argument, any limitations of weapons is an infringement. What about nuclear warheads? Limiting our opportunity to own that type of weapon is a technical infringement on our right to bear arms. But most people can understand the rationale behind this limitation, so why not other military-style weapons? The concept is common sense. While we should have a right to bear arms, laws to regulate what weapons we can own do not infringe on that right.

We cannot be afraid of the bullies of the NRA or anyone else who thinks they can understand what happened to us victims more than we do. We cannot be complacent when they say if they were in our shoes they would have “taken care of the situation.” We cannot sit idly by and allow citizens of this country be fooled into thinking that the right to bear arms supercedes our right to live. And we now sit in constant fear that the person next to us can kill us at any moment, because all he has to do is walk into a local sporting goods store.

Please take a moment today and leave a message at (202) 456-1111 for President Obama, and tell him that you've had enough! It will only take a minute and you can tell him that you are sick and tired the 32 people murdered every day by gun violence because of easily accessible deadly weapons that made Friday’s tragedy in Colorado possible. Ask him to do what's right and speak up in favor of common sense gun laws that can help save American lives.

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