Raymond F. Dilger

Uncle Ray was known in his community for his big heart. His entire life he had a servant-leader attitude, doing what he could for others while he built his own successful business and racing career. He extended kindness to a young man who lost his parents at a young age; he gave him a job and parental guidance. A number of years later, that young man started dating my uncle’s daughter. When the relationship became abusive, Ray helped his daughter leave the relationship and find safety.

Her abuser began threatening my family and said that he’d kill my uncle. The abuser had a criminal record and should not have had easy access to a gun, but several loopholes existed allowing opportunities for any convicted criminal to legally get a gun. The abuser shot and killed my uncle Ray because Ray wouldn’t tell the abuser where his daughter was hiding as she pursued her legal options. Police continually told my family nothing could be done; no laws could be applied to stopping the abuser. Red Flag Laws could have saved my uncle. Thirty-two years later, two of the four loopholes allowing his killer to get a gun still remain. There’s no excuse for that.

Abbi

I was a gun owner.

After giving birth, I was diagnosed with severe postpartum depression and became violently suicidal. I was given antidepressants but never once asked if I had access to a firearm. At three months postpartum, I decided to end my life. I took my Smith & Wesson 9 mm pistol and held it to my temple, then underneath my chin. I found an extra box of ammunition on the top shelf of our closet and searched for hours through every dresser, junk drawer and garage shelf for either one of the two magazines. I never found either. I overdosed on sertraline (antidepressant) to stop my brain function but wasn’t successful.

Firearm suicide is uniquely lethal, and I’m alive today because I couldn’t find a magazine. Access to guns increases the risk of suicide by three times, and the inextricable linkage between perinatal suicide and firearm access needs to be addressed in gun violence prevention campaigns and the medical community. After stabilizing my PPD, I started volunteering with Moms Demand Action and the Be SMART campaign. Gun violence is a women’s issue, and suicide is the second leading cause of perinatal death. Access to guns needs to be part of post-birth discussion.

Cristina M.

I was 13, in eighth grade, doing my homework, when there was a loud knock at the door. It was the neighbor across the street, who helped mow our lawn when my mom was busy or helped us clear branches after a hurricane. His wife and her mother would bring us bags of mangos in the summer.

My mom peeked through the blinds, and the man told her, with gun in hand, that he has just killed his wife and now he was going to… kill us? Kill himself?

My mother didn’t stick around to hear his final words. She grabbed me by the arms and hid me under the bed. In the meantime, while we were dialing 911, he was confronted by a local police officer; the man turned the gun on himself in the street.

The man had a history of domestic violence and owned over 40 guns, but red flag laws did not exist in Florida back in 2002. I believe that if they had, his wife Juana Maria might still be alive today.

Connie M. Simmons

My spouse was experiencing enormous migraines that were a result of multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Her thinking was compromised, and during the last few months of her life, she was becoming more verbally abusive. We had another fight over nothing, and she had said something that I was walking into the bedroom to hear. She started pulling the trigger at me in the doorway, and I started telling her to stop and put the gun down. She then turned the gun to her head, pulling the trigger continually. In one fast movement she pulled back, armed it and shot herself in the head.

It’s still very fuzzy. I lost the other half of me that morning. My life has changed since I moved back to my hometown of Des Moines. Yet the facts remain the same: I wish there would have been a red flag law then.

Christy

I never even considered myself a survivor of gun violence until I attended a Moms Demand Action meeting. The speaker talked about different kinds of survivors, one of which included those who had a loved one who had committed suicide. I called police to do a welfare check on my dad in February 2012. And while they were there, he took his own life. Although I wasn’t present when my dad shot himself, I was there for many years of seeing him abuse my mom, lay his guns out on the table in a drunken stupor or threaten to shoot my mom. He was never violent towards me or my siblings, but I witnessed his abuse of my mother much too often.

My dad was a felon and mentally unstable most of his life and should have never been allowed to own a gun. If strong red flag laws and background checks for the sale of all guns had been in place seven years ago, maybe my dad would be here today. Maybe he would’ve been able to get the help he needed for his mental health, and I wouldn’t be able to call myself a survivor of gun violence.

Melody

I was always told that my maternal great-grandfather was killed while cleaning a gun. That never added up. When I was 2, my dad’s sister was shot and killed while attempting to retrieve her child from her husband’s lover. She died in front of her 4-year-old daughter. When I was 5, I watched my mother crumple and weep in fetal position on our kitchen floor upon learning that her best friend, a bank teller, was shot in the face at work and killed. None of this ever seemed to affect me growing up. A few years ago, I made friends with a woman I met through our children at school. She and I really clicked. We had similar political beliefs and worked on a campaign together in 2018. She was a real beacon of hope for me. Her name was Jessimine, but friends called her Jazz. The name suited her well. Her tune was one that did not fall into any basic structure. She was one whose beat changed time signatures with carefree abandon. Her favorite book was The Great Gatsby. Our kids trick-or- treated together — she dressed as Danarys Targaryen, me as a Handmaid. In November, our candidate lost, and we were discouraged, but ready to keep fighting. She told me that she wanted to get involved with Moms Demand Action after the new year, when things settled down. She even mentioned that she used to be a pawn dealer and was up on gun laws. Threads of witty texts, clever puns, eloquent comments — how she could make me laugh! It came as a complete shock when I found out on a cloudy January morning that she was gone. How could I have never known she battled bi-polar and depression? I did not know her struggles with psychiatric drugs for over 20 years. She bought the gun at a pawn shop. My friend Jazz made me a survivor.

Missy Costa Beasley

In 2012, my mother, a 70-year-old woman, shot and killed my 26-year-old son. My son was sound asleep on her couch when she placed a pillow over his face and shot him twice in the head.

My mother had suffered from few things in her life, but mental illness was certainly one of them. So many times the “red flags” were overlooked and ignored because she was masterful at disguising them to most everyone. She had attempted suicide several times prior to killing my son. She had been hospitalized several times over the years for mental health issues prior to 2012. And yet on July 6th, 2012, she was finally successful in her attempts, and after murdering my oldest child in cold blood, she sat down beside my son in her rocking chair, put the gun to her forehead and killed herself. She did not leave a note this time.

It could have been prevented, in so many ways. She should have never had access to a gun. She had a long history of prior gun violence. Of prior mental health issues. My son is gone. My son is dead. It should have never happened.

Ellen Parks

Our son struggled with depression from the time he was a teenager. He responded well to Prozac, but hated to “have to” take it. He went through phases of feeling very well when he took it, and would go off of it and within months usually suffered another bout. When he was 32 years old he was working as a Doctor of Physical Therapy in Nashville. He was living with my sister to cut costs while paying off his student loans. He was in a bad slump when he attempted suicide with Tylenol PM but was found in time. After that, my sister removed the guns from the house.

Seven months later, my sister felt it was safe to bring the guns back in to the home. She did not know that he was calling me, telling me how depressed he was again, and I did not know she brought the guns back. Two weeks later, my sister found him dead, with a gunshot wound to the head. So terribly final. Unbearable sadness has stayed with us all, it has now been eight years since he saw the gun as the opportunity to end his pain. What if…haunts us.

Anna

If my dad was never given access to guns, he would still be alive today.

Patti Brockington

My family secretly removed my gun. When I went to kill myself, it was gone. They saved my life. I didn’t realize that until 30 years later, as I sat in a Moms Demand Action meeting. I left that day knowing I was a survivor. It gives me chills now.

I’ll continue fighting for common-sense solutions to gun violence. I will continue to fight for Red Flag laws. I was lucky my family knew there was a mental health crisis; they didn’t need a Red Flag law. As a survivor, I know that Red Flag laws can and will save lives.