In February we acknowledge National Gun Violence Survivor week. I would guess that many of you, like me, are survivors of gun violence. It’s a club no one wants to be part of, but we have no choice in that.
Forty years ago, my 27-year-old brother David was shot and injured and it changed our lives forever. At the time I was a carefree college student who adored my older brother who called me Ducky. I thought David the lucky one because he could do anything he put his mind to and he charmed everyone. David was handsome, a skier, woodworker and master in martial arts; he played guitar and loved music and fast cars. He had lots of friends, was happily married, owned his home and worked in a hospital as a respiratory therapist.
Everything changed one rainy evening when I answered the call from my sister-in-law, a nurse. David had been shot by an angry driver through a crack in the window when he was pulled over on the side of the road to let him pass. The bullet entered the left side of David’s neck and traveled down through his spinal cord, severing it. David survived because his friend who was in the passenger seat pulled his bloodied body across the armrest to drive him to the emergency room. David was in intensive care and would never walk again. Stunned, I managed to take down the details to tell my family before completely breaking down.
Sometime later we found out that they had caught the shooter: a 19-year-old who had thrown away the gun he shot David with. When they tracked him down, he had another gun, an unlicensed gun. How easy it was for him to find another gun — it’s shameful really, the easy access. How different the outcome might have been if he had not had a gun.
After almost a year in hospitals, David was discharged. His wife had divorced him so our parents dropped their lives to take care of their adult son who was paralyzed from the chest down. Can you imagine the impact? A healthy, independent man suddenly confined to a wheelchair. Can you imagine the humiliation of having a home health aide changing your diaper, your catheter, bathing you, dressing you because you couldn’t do it yourself? Your mother cutting your meat for you? And the constant pain was unbearable. It wasn’t much of a life for David or our parents, and there was little joy in that home. After 16 years of pain and frustration David, sick of it all, killed himself with stored-up pain medications. It was heartbreaking.
While that bullet didn’t kill David immediately in 1980, it did kill his spirit and tore a hole in the lives of every member of our family. From that day forward I would never look at marriage, relationships or family in the same way and that is only a fraction of the impact of that bullet.
For so many years I was alone in my experience, but sadly that is no longer the case. Gun violence is commonplace and that is unacceptable. A few years ago, I joined a group called Moms Demand Action and was introduced to the Everytown Survivor Network. These groups, including gun violence survivors, work tirelessly to end gun violence. Finally, someplace to offer me a voice and actions to take to end gun violence and begin the true healing process.
Until the day that gun violence becomes a rarity, I ask you to use your voice and actions to honor David and the hundreds of lives impacted by gun violence daily, and work to prevent other families from enduring a preventable tragedy.