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    Beyond Thoughts and Prayers

    A gun-rights advocate finds herself in the survivors club.

    Taylor S. Schumann

    June 9, 2021
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    • MICHAEL NACRELLI

      I see parallels between the gun lobby and the abortion lobby. Both stridently oppose even the most modest restrictions, and both hold sway over their respective political parties, even though their extreme positions aren't widely supported.

    • ranger

      "A person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still" SO the foundation of the article is that since I became a victim my position must have been wrong? This is one of the reasons I cancelled my subscription

    • Bob Kelly

      Thank you for this article. I believe that it's an amazing testament and counterpoint to the chatter on both sides of the firearms safety debate.

    • Ann McGlothlin Weller

      Thank you for this. If responsible gun owners (including some who support the NRA, which is currently staunchly opposed to even reasonable steps to address gun violence) would step up and speak up--as you propose--we might actually see some progress on the issue. And I pray that we can before there are more victims, victims' families and friends, and communities devastated.

    On a beautiful spring morning in April 2013, a student decided to walk into his school with a gun, where he shot me, the new receptionist. I was forced into a world I had only seen from the comfort of my living room, with the television screen separating me from tragedy. After that day, I understood what it was like to see the worst experience of your life on the national news and the front of the newspaper. I felt the physical pain of a bullet ripping my body apart. I woke up from nightmares constantly through the night and started sobbing at sudden noises. Contending with physical and emotional trauma from the attack became my life. I found myself joining a club of shooting survivors who had lived all of their days like this long before I did. Despite the fact we strongly oppose adding new members – since none of us wants to be in this club in the first place – our membership increases every day.

    Before it happened to me, it was easy to see shootings in the news, feel sad, offer my thoughts and prayers, maybe add one of those little ribbons to my Facebook profile picture, and then move on with my day. I didn't have to think about it further if I didn't want to. It wasn't my problem. I didn't have to acknowledge the fact that in America more than thirty-six thousand people die every year because of gun violence. Or that the gun suicide rate in America is ten times higher than in other high-income countries. Or that for children and teens in America, firearms are the second leading cause of death. None of this affected me. Until it did.

    After the shooting I received a lot of interview requests. I had watched these aftermath interviews with victims of shootings before I became one myself, and I anticipated a lot of questions about guns. I didn’t want to talk about guns. I didn’t want to be used to “further an agenda” (something I heard muttered about these particular interviews; to be honest, I’d probably said this myself) and I didn’t want to be put into a position where I was forced to talk about things I wasn’t ready to talk about. When I would communicate this to reporters, many of them never contacted me again.

    I am from an area of the country, southwestern Virginia, where owning a gun is common. People there aren’t necessarily obsessed with guns, but owning them is normal, even expected. My dad owns guns and is by my standards an extremely responsible gun owner. It was the quintessential “God, guns, and freedom” type of culture and I fit right in until I didn’t. I had always been staunchly pro–Second Amendment, always asserting guns were not the problem; the problem was an abundance of evil in the world and a severe lack of available mental health care. And yet there I found myself, pro-gun opinions and all, a victim of gun violence.

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    Photograph by Danilo Alvesd (colorized)

    I wrestled to understand my feelings in the wake of the shooting. All of my former arguments for gun ownership now felt hollow. No good guy with a gun had protected me. No one pulled out their concealed weapon to take down the shooter in an act of heroism. In fact, the man who stopped the shooter didn’t have a gun at all. At the same time, I countered, playing out all sides of the argument in my head, the shooter bought the gun legally. What laws could’ve stopped him? I lived in this tension of feeling negatively towards both pro-gun rhetoric and people who wanted me to be anti-gun. I didn’t know where I fit in.

    I considered staying silent on the issue forever. That seemed like the easy thing to do, and it worked for a while. But something inside me knew that silence wasn’t the answer. Being a shooting survivor means being re-traumatized every time another shooting finds its way into the news. Many of the people around me were able to move on from the immediate aftermath and trauma of the shooting. They were able to forget. I couldn’t. As a result, I felt forgotten, and I didn’t want anyone else to have to feel that way. If I stayed silent, despite not feeling ready to wade into the public discourse around gun violence, was I contributing to the suffering of others?

    Every time a shooting made its way into the news, I was forced to analyze all of these conflicting emotions. I read the names of the victims and their ages and what they liked to do. I memorized their faces and I read about their injuries. I prayed for them by name and begged God to take away their pain and heal their wounds. I used my own memories to imagine what it was like for them as they wondered whether they would live or die. I found myself reading everything I could about the different shooters, their histories, and how they acquired their weapons. I read about the damage to the body caused by weapons like the AR-15 and accessories like bump stocks that allow guns to be fired in rapid succession, causing as much carnage as possible. I read about people who, by all accounts, shouldn’t have been allowed to purchase guns, but were, due to one oversight or another.

    All of it wreaked havoc in my life. I was plagued by nightmares and was anxious simply sitting inside my house. Every time I heard the sound of an ambulance or police sirens, I was certain it was another shooting. I knew I couldn’t keep this up for the rest of my life, but I couldn’t bear to forget these people and what happened to them. I knew what that felt like, and it felt like my responsibility to remember them, their names, their pain, their stories. If no one else did, I would.

    Every mass shooting that dominated the news cycle was inevitably followed by offerings of “thoughts and prayers” from one side, and promises to do something about gun violence by the other. Thoughts and prayers was where I had always lived: feeling terrible pain for those affected by gun violence, but only going as far as praying for them, and wondering what could be done to stop this terrible evil. I usually arrived at the conclusion that there just wasn’t anything we could do. How else could you move on after hearing the terrible news of twenty children and six of their teachers being murdered in their elementary school? How could you not collapse under the weight of it unless you convinced yourself it was beyond your power to stop it?

    I understand why people resort to thoughts and prayers: it’s self-preservation. And it is effective for everyone but the victims. In the months after I was shot, this response began to feel increasingly insufficient. As I watched more lives taken and more lives ruined by gun violence, I found little solace in people offering thoughts and prayers. I was feeling pulled apart at the seams and broken open. It wasn’t only the tragedies pulling me apart and breaking me open. I believe God was doing it, in what I now know was a loving act. The God I read about in the Bible – the one who said he was near to the brokenhearted, that the poor are blessed, that we are to welcome the immigrant – was revealing himself to me in a different way.

    No longer could I read those words and see them as things Jesus simply said or Jesus cared about. I now understood that if Jesus cared about those things, I was to care about them too. And not just by donating money to charity, though donating money is important. I was to care about these people because they are my fellow image bearers of God, made in his likeness just as I was. And because I am called to care about their humanity and their eternity, I am also called to care about the issues affecting their physical bodies, not just their spiritual lives.

    I come from a family of gun owners and staunch supporters of the Second Amendment. I know many advocates for gun ownership want to protect people from gun violence just as I do. I hope that they see a place for themselves in the conversation about gun reform. We need gun owners who understand the gravity of owning guns and the responsibility that comes with it. I can talk all day long about the realities of surviving gun violence and the havoc it is wreaking in our communities. It is responsible gun owners, however, who can break the current political impasse by backing reasonable reforms. In my book I explore in detail some of the steps we might take. I don’t expect everyone to agree on the particulars, but for the sake of the victims we need to keep having these uncomfortable discussions to find common ground and build consensus that when it comes down to saving lives or saving guns, we choose life.


    Adapted from When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough by Taylor S. Schumann. Copyright (c) 2021 by Taylor Sharpe Schumann. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

    Contributed By

    Taylor S. Schumann is a survivor of the April 2013 shooting at a college in Christiansburg, Virginia. She is a writer and activist whose writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Fathom. She is a contributor to If I Don't Make It, I Love You: Survivors in the Aftermath of School Shootings and the author of the forthcoming title When Thoughts and Prayers Aren't Enough (July, 2021)

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