Six years since Jan. 8, 2011. Seems like moments ago or eons ago, depending. Life has a new normal for many since. Witnessing six people shot dead and 13 wounded on a sidewalk at Ina and Oracle roads on a beautiful Tucson morning changed me, as it should.
That morning two brave men, good guys without guns, Roger Salzgeber and Bill Badger, tackled the shooter without regard for their own safety. Bill soldiered on even with a bullet graze wound to the head. Their actions saved my life that morning.
As a result of my supplementing their action, I’ve received a what feels like a lifetime of attention. President Obama praised me in his speech at the memorial gathering here shortly after the shooting, even though I told him he was wrong about me being a hero. Bill and Roger were the heroes that morning.
Because of my notoriety, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (now Everytown/Moms Demand Action) was the first to give my story a voice for gun violence prevention. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Women Against Gun Violence, Reston Herndon Alliance to End Gun Violence, Newtown Action Alliance and more have given my story a voice.
Because of my good fortune that day, I must make a difference, as an activist, with a voice for voices silenced by gun violence.
Since that Jan. 8 there have been so many mass shootings, numbers differ by agency count. Infamous ones include: 12 killed 70 wounded in Aurora, Colorado; Sandy Hook Elementary School found six educators and 20 tiny, beautiful, first-graders killed; in Isla Vista, California three dead of stab wounds, 3 killed and 7 wounded by firearms; San Bernardino’s shooters killed 14 and injured 22; a Charleston church shooting left nine dead and one wounded; then Orlando, Florida.
I often wondered who would take Virginia Tech’s distinction of most killed in a single shooting. Virginia Techs’ 32 dead in 2007 held the record until 2016. Then, Pulse Night Club in Orlando, June 12. Forty-nine dead, 53 wounded. Now I wonder who’s next if we don’t try to help stop the madness.
Through advocacy, I’m honored to know many wounded survivors, as well as surviving loved ones of many shootings, from those I’ve mentioned and from other individual and mass shootings. With the honor comes knowledge, horrible knowledge of the visible physical wounds and a sense of the emotional wounds. Then there is the knowledge of how a loved one was killed. I can only imagine the unimaginable, but victims’ families and friends live it, every minute of every day. It doesn’t stop.
For me, this terrible knowledge carries a self-imposed responsibility to continue to stand up, to speak out, to be loud, whether at a Senate hearing, a state hearing in Arizona or elsewhere, a sit-in at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Anywhere.
A recent “anywhere” was the first day of class at a University of Arizona lecture hall. Putting a face and personality to a name of one taken makes that person and that shooting much more real. In this case, we talked about Alex Teves, a 2010 UA grad who had been a true hero in that Aurora, Colorado movie theater when the shooting started. Alex sacrificed his life and saved his fiancé, Amanda.
Alex’s mom, Caren, was with me when I told that class about Alex, including his freshman dorm room. To our astonishment, from more than 6,000 new students on campus that day, one young lady in our audience had that exact room assignment. What a tender coincidence. Those little “coincidences” mean so much to the loved ones of those slain. .
Each day an average of 91 people die from a firearm wounds. Two-thirds are deaths by self-infliction — suicides. An important number consistently forgotten, and easily dismissed by some, is the daily count of those wounded by gunshots. The latest number I know is 231. Their wounds range from a graze to very complicated, life-altering injuries. The consequences of a man holding a gun loaded with ammunition. A very intimate relationship, that.
My advocacy tries to educate and convince legislators that we can keep the Second Amendment whole and do common sense measures to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to self or others. Some will never be convinced, and to them we say “Stand aside, let us pass!” It’s our right to try and we have work to do.
Today, please remember the 13 wounded including our former Congresswoman, Gabby Giffords, and those killed on the sidewalk that day: Dorothy Morris, Dorwan Stoddard, Phyllis Schneck, Judge John Roll, Gabe Zimmerman and beautiful, little, 9-year-old, Christina-Taylor Green.
Honor their lives with action because words without action change little. Do something to make a difference in someone’s life.
Remember them. I do, every day. Always.