Every day in this country 86 lives are cut short with guns. Multiply that number by 365 and you get more than 30,000 families who suffer from gun violence over the course of a year.
My mother was one of the 86 on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman entered the school where she was the principal, and in just minutes he murdered 26 children and educators. She died protecting her students, and now there’s a massive void in my family where my mom and my best friend once was. This past week, hundreds of families experienced similar pain—some in Santa Barbara, and many more scattered in communities throughout the country.
In the 18 months since my mom was killed I’ve decided to use my voice to limit the number of families who have to go through what I went through. In my advocacy work with Everytown for Gun Safety I’ve met hundreds of other gun violence survivors who made the same choice.
So as we enter the world of advocacy—making pleas for such “tyrannical” measures as criminal background checks on gun purchases or gun safety precautions to keep toddlers from shooting themselves—what’s the response from the other side? I’ll give you a few examples.
My dear friend Jennifer Longdon, a gun owner herself, was shot in 2004 sitting in a car with her fiancé. The gunshots paralyzed her, but they gave the gun violence prevention movement a fierce advocate willing to travel the country to speak out. Her focus: keeping guns out of dangerous hands and saving lives.
During a trip to the NRA convention this year, a gun extremist recognized her at the Indianapolis airport. He had seen her face on TV, and decided to spit on her as retribution. Years earlier, Jennifer got home from a gun violence prevention event and found another gun extremist waiting for her at her front door. He pointed a water-gun in her face and said, “Don’t you wish you had a gun now, bitch?” before taking off.
There’s also Steve Barton. On a bike trip across the country he wound up in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado to see The Dark Knight, where he was shot in the neck and down his torso. He became an activist and received death threats for his advocacy. Gun extremists claimed his story was fabricated and that he was never in the theater to begin with, even though he had the scars to prove it.
Then there was the statement I saw this week from “Joe the Plumber.” Yes, you may be saying to yourself, “I vaguely recall that name from heaps of media coverage several lifetimes ago.” He’s the Ohio plumber turned Sarah Palin-surrogate turned failed congressional candidate, and this week he told the courageous father of a Santa Barbara shooting victim, Richard Martinez, “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.” Never mind that none of the solutions being discussed by Martinez or any other gun violence prevention advocates in any way threaten the Second Amendment.
It’s actually refreshing to see his comments so unvarnished, so closely removed from this poor kid’s murder. And I wouldn’t have dignified his disgusting comments with a response if it didn’t follow such a disturbing pattern among gun extremists in this country.
In fact, his comments quite clearly encapsulate the id of the small faction of extremists who are influencing our country’s gun laws. Your loss doesn’t matter if it inconveniences me one bit. Gun violence may be real—and it may be 20 times worse here than in any other developed country—but I don’t have a solution for it, except to buy more guns and intimidate more victims.
I know the vast majority of gun owners in America are good, smart, compassionate people. I’ve met them in the last year and a half all across the country. Many of them are NRA members whom I spoke with at each of the last two conventions. This isn’t just a hunch I have from small anecdotes; it’s backed up by lots of data. In fact, a poll of gun owners taken by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that 82 percent of gun owners—and 74 percent of NRA members—support common-sense background checks.
Given how many gun owners are on our side of the debate—not surprising, when you consider 90 percent of the country shares the sentiment—you would think the gun extremists like Joe the Plumber would get drowned out. We need responsible gun owners to stand up and say “enough is enough.” If prioritizing guns over dead kids makes you angry, stand up and drown his words out with action.
When I watched Martinez’s speech on TV I was struck by his strength and courage. Those of us who join the club of gun violence survivors do it unwillingly. Sadly, membership has never been higher. We join the club in varying circumstances, from different areas of the country, with unique backgrounds. But I think I speak for many of us when I say Martinez’s words could not have been more true: “I don’t care about your sympathy…Get to work and do something.” At Everytown, we’re trying to fulfill his wish by getting Americans to fill out a postcard to send to their elected officials with one simple message: “Not one more.”
We can all learn from his strength and do our part to save lives.