I was attending my first Moms Demand meeting in Chattanooga. As I signed in, I noticed the box to check for survivor. I thought, no, I haven’t been involved in a shooting, I’m not a survivor. As people went around the room telling why they were there, I realized, as tears formed in my eyes, that I was indeed a survivor.
I remember April 16, 2007, clearly. A friend called, “There’s been a shooting at Virginia Tech. S is ok, but we don’t know about J yet.” My heart was in my throat. We all met at UNC when my husband and S were in graduate school. They had recently gotten jobs at Va Tech. S and I knitted together every week. They came to our house for holiday parties, we went to theirs for dinner. Our dog loved J, he always came in the house and immediately played with him.
We were taking a walk when we heard that J was gone, that he died trying to barricade the door for his students. A professor, protecting his students from a gunman. This was not part of the job description. Horrified in the aftermath of Va Tech I remember thinking, this can’t happen again; there will be gun reform. Sadly, now, every time there is a mass shooting, I recall grieving with their families and know they are reliving the nightmare. Teachers and professors are learning how to protect students from shooters.
When it became my turn, I shared about J and S. The way the lives they had worked so hard for were broken in an instant. How every time a shooting occurred, I felt like we had let them down. Then I realized I was a survivor in another way. It had only been a few months since my father took his life by firearm in the garage of my childhood home. My mother found him, our neighbors who loved him helped her call EMS and clean up. He struggled with mental illness before, but there were no signs. My mother says she would not have let him have a firearm if she thought in any way he would use it. He made attempts in the past and had access to a gun but never used it. What recourse would she have had though to make him get rid of it. We need Red Flag laws in every state.
I broke down in tears at that meeting, as I realized that not only was I a survivor, but if I was, then so many others were too. Being directly or indirectly affected by gun violence changes you. Hopefully for many, it motivates us to keep at this fight so that our numbers do not grow as much as they have since April 16, 2007.