I AM not an expert on guns, but I am uniquely qualified to speak about the devastating effects of gun violence. On July 28, 2006, I was shot by an angry man with a gun who barged into the Seattle Jewish Federation building.
He shot five of my colleagues. My co-worker, Pamela Waechter, died after he shot her in her chest, then chased her into a stairwell and shot her again in her head.
Until he barged into our office, it was an ordinary day at work. I don’t have ordinary days anymore. I have scars on my body that show me I am a survivor.
So now I speak, I act, I move and I live with a mission. I also march, as I did on Jan. 26 with thousands calling for gun control in our nation’s capital. I marched for the dead, for the survivors, for the children and teachers of Sandy Hook, for countless victims of gun violence and for the security of us all.
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My mission is not to take away anyone’s guns. My mission is to call for greater responsibility from our federal government, from our state and from every person who owns a gun.
There have been more than 1,600 gun-related deaths in the United States since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. We must make it our top priority to close the gap between law-abiding and responsible gun owners. Gun owners who do not safely store guns and ammunition in their homes and businesses are law-abiding, but they are not responsible.
For example, consider Adam Lanza’s mother. She legally purchased all her guns and ammunition, but reportedly failed to store them safely away from her son living in her home, a son she allegedly knew had serious mental-health problems.
Lawmakers should require trigger locks, gun safes and liability insurance for all gun owners. They should also require universal background checks for buyers and close the private-sale and gun-show loopholes. Enforcing and prosecuting violations would make it difficult for criminals and mentally ill individuals to get guns, and it would reduce the availability of illegally obtained guns.
I believe we must also address the lethality of ammunition. It’s not simply about high-capacity clips and drums. The debate over ammunition should also include the types of bullets we let gun owners buy and use. It’s possible my co-worker Pamela could have survived had she not been shot in the head with a hollow-point bullet.
Had I been shot with a non-hollow-point bullet, perhaps I might have only had to endure 10 surgeries, instead of the 20 surgeries I’ve undergone to repair critical damage after the bullet ricocheted through my body.
Congress must act. If it abdicates its responsibility, then the Washington state Legislature must act. And if it refuses to act, it must at least free our cities and counties to act.
Many thousands of people participated in the March on Washington for Gun Control. We marched silently. We hoped the silence would break the sound barrier between booming voices from wealthy lobbyists and the small voices of the murdered children from Sandy Hook. We hoped the silence would break the sound barrier between gun advocates screaming for their rights, and gun-control advocates voicing the need for common sense.
I marched holding a poster board with “Pamela Waechter” written in big block letters, and under it, “May Her Memory be a Blessing.” As I walked, I heard a woman shout Pam’s name. Moments later, Phyllis from Los Angeles was at my side, a friend of Pam’s I’d never met before. We walked together and shared memories of our friend.
Pam’s name brought two strangers together during a march for stronger gun control. I think Pam would have appreciated this.
Cheryl Stumbo is an advocate for gun control and survivors of gun violence. She is a speaker with LFB Advocacy Group in Seattle.