Brady President Kris Brown with her two daughters.

April is a Painful Month that Reminds Us of the Toll of Gun Violence

This month marks a number of shootings that wracked our country. We must take action by educating ourselves about the effects of gun violence and how we can support survivors. Brady’s proud to share new resources to do just that.

Every year, April is one of the hardest months for the gun violence prevention community. Each “anniversary” of a high-profile shooting comes with its own pain and its own lessons. It’s an important time to reflect and recommit to the movement to end gun violence — including vowing to support survivors everywhere.

As a graduate of Virginia Tech and a lifelong Virginian, I watched in horror on April 16, 2007, when 32 people were shot and killed and 23 injured at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA.

It was the deadliest mass shooting in America at that time, and it took the lives of students who were just like me — just separated by years. I spent countless hours as a student in the building struck by the shooter. Some of my friends had become professors at Virginia Tech, and I only learned later that they were safe. It was an awful day that I will never forget. In the years since, I’ve met student survivors, families who lost their children, and many, many others for whom that terrible day is seared into their memories. All of us are at most, a few degrees separated from gun violence. Today, I and all Hokies are directly connected to it.

This Saturday, we will join in observing the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. With 13 killed and another 21 wounded, the specter of Columbine lives on with every appalling school shooting in our country.

Twenty years after the tragedy at Columbine, America is finally reckoning with the realization that the harmful effects of gun violence don’t stop when the shooting stops. Instead, the trauma for survivors of gun violence is ongoing.

There were more, of course — the Fort Hood shooting on April 2, 2014, with three killed and 14 injured. The shooting at a Nashville-area Waffle House on April 22 of last year that killed four and injured two more. The April 2012 shooting at Oikos University in Oakland, CA, that killed seven and injured three. And 51 years ago, one of the great leaders in our country’s history, Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed at his Memphis hotel on April 4.

Uplifting and Supporting Survivors

As important as it is to remember and honor those we have lost to gun violence over the years, it is equally important to support and lift up the survivors, those who are forced to live with the pain day after day. They endure the scars, emotionally and physically, that serve as a constant reminder of the trauma they experienced.

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with a number of remarkable survivors. Every time I speak with one, the courage and strength they show astound me. One of those survivors, Colin Goddard, was in his French class at Virginia Tech 12 years ago when the shooter burst into his classroom and opened fire. Colin was shot four times, three of those bullets remain lodged in his hip and knee.

Colin was lucky enough to survive, but the effects of the shooting remain with him today. A decade later, the bullet fragments that remain in his body have resulted in high levels of lead in his body, causing significant health risks. Furthermore, because so little research exists on the effects of gun violence, nobody warned him or his family of the risk of lead poisoning because of these fragments. And the management of his blood lead levels is both expensive and risky.

Because of efforts on behalf of the gun industry, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has gone more than 20 years without undertaking any significant research into the effects of gun violence.

That’s a generation of knowledge lost, a generation of the most talented researchers in the country unable to do anything to reduce deaths and injuries due to gun violence. Meanwhile, the survivors of gun violence are forced to soldier on, doing their best to cope with the trauma while their doctors struggle to help them with one hand tied behind their backs.

Gun violence is a public health crisis, and it’s long past time for Congress to fully fund the CDC’s research into the issue. But until that day comes — and it is coming soon — there’s much we can do to support the survivors in our communities.

The Urgent Need to Address Suicide and Guns

We’ve seen the tragedy of gun violence multiplied by the recent high-profile suicides by gun in the Parkland and Sandy Hook communities, as well as the spate of veteran suicides taking place all across the country. It’s urgent that we address this epidemic.

Sixty percent of all gun deaths in America are deaths by suicide, with nearly 23,000 suicides by gun in 2016 alone. About 20 veterans die by suicide in the U.S. every day, approximately two-thirds using a gun. And more than two children and teens a day shoot and kill themselves, half of whom are under the age of 16.

Brady has been proud to partner with our friends at the American Association of Suicidology to address the link between suicides and guns. We’re leading a coalition in introducing new resources to help communities better support those impacted by gun violence.

We know that traumatic events can cause tremendous emotional distress for survivors; the loved ones of victims; first responders, rescue, and recovery workers; and other high-risk populations including our nation’s veterans. It’s clear that the link between suicides and firearms is one of the most insidious forms of gun violence. But every one of us has the ability to reach out and help those among us who might be suffering.

If you or someone you know might be in distress, there are three steps you can take:

  1. Check in by talking about it with those you trust.
  2. Check up by finding a balance you’re comfortable with while coping with your experience and/or supporting others through theirs.
  3. Check often by recognizing the need for boundaries to help process interactions with the experience.

And, as always, remind those in crisis that they can and should call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255, text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the Disaster Distress Hotline, and visit Brady’s Team Enough which has produced a list of available mental health resources.

With 96 people shot and killed and another 274 injured by gunfire every day in America, the likelihood is strong that we all know a survivor of gun violence. We may not even realize who they are, but we owe it to them to lift them up and support them in any way we can.

Whether or not they are connected to Virginia Tech, to Columbine, to Fort Hood, to Nashville, to Oikos University, or to the countless incidents of everyday shootings throughout the country, they should not have to shoulder their burdens alone. Let us join together and be there in support and in solidarity.

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273–8255, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741–741.

President of Brady, America’s oldest and boldest gun violence prevention group. Learn more at bradyunited.org #TakeActionNotSides

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