My family’s brush with gun violence happened 17 years ago, but I still remember it vividly. My oldest sister called me in late in the afternoon on May 18, 2002. Our 76-year-old dad was in the hospital but he was OK, she stressed, before dropping the more shocking news. Our dad was at the hospital because he’d been shot.
“Shot? You mean like with a gun?” I remember asking, disbelieving such a thing could even be possible.
It made no sense. Our parents had been visiting our sister and her family in Florida. It happened while they were golfing. My parents were heading toward the 7th tee when they heard a bang. Dad said he felt something hit him in the chest. He thought he’d been hit by a golf ball. Then he saw the blood.
What happened to my family is unfortunately not unique. Lots of people seem to know someone – a relative or an acquaintance – who’s been affected by gun violence.
In 2017, gun deaths reached their highest level in at least 40 years, with 39,773 gun deaths across the U.S.Gun deaths increased by 16 percent from 2014 to 2017, and nonfatal firearm injuries are also on the rise, according to the nonprofit Giffords Law Center.
In Virginia, 140 people have been killed by gunfire since Jan. 1, and another 369 were injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
On average, Virginia has about 264 gun-related homicides and 623 gun-related suicides annually, also according to the Giffords Law Center.
The numbers, however dramatic, don’t compare to the gut punch that accompanies the personal blow of gun violence.
That’s no doubt why so many survivors turn to activism, like former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the namesake of Giffords Law Center. Giffords narrowly survived being shot in the head outside a Tucson grocery store in 2011, an incident that left six people dead.
Moms Demand Action, a pro-gun-control group, is full of such survivors. Its website is a virtual repository of hundreds of sad stories about loved ones’ lives shattered by gunfire: A mother and sister shot while shopping at the mall; a husband shot and killed at work; an 8-year-old son shot in the face while playing in the backyard, a brother shot in an armed robbery, and on and on.
Our family was fortunate. My dad was released from the hospital in just a few hours after being treated for what was a superficial wound. The bullet only grazed the front of his chest. The police scoured the golf course for the bullet or other evidence, but never found any.
In 2006, we learned that my dad’s shooting matched the description of one of several Lee Boyd Malvo, the younger of the infamous D.C. snipers, said he and John Muhammad committed on their way to Washington, D.C. from Washington state. Over several months, the two shot 27 people, 17 fatally. Their victims included “two old guys on golf courses,” one in Arizona and one in Florida, Malvo told police. The latter was my dad.
Unfortunately, we lost my dad to heart disease in 2011. But we are forever grateful that our family’s brush with gun violence didn’t steal him from us nine years sooner.
It’s not clear whether any of the gun laws currently under consideration by state and federal lawmakers could have stopped the D.C. snipers. But it’s possible that a “red flag law,” had it been in place, might have inspired someone in Muhammad’s orbit to recognize his instability and report him, allowing a judge to rule him incompetent to retain his guns. There’s at least a possibility that might have occurred. Maybe.
Those who advocate for red flag laws and stricter background checks, two measures President Trump recently said he could support, say they know such measures won’t eliminate all gun violence. They can’t. The hope is they might prevent some future deaths.
In the wake of the recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, state and federal lawmakers seem finally ready to adopt such laws in an effort to try to stem this deadly epidemic that has touched so many families.
Does your family have a gun violence story? Or, do you know someone whose life was protected because of a gun? If so, we invite you to write to us and share it. This could finally be the moment when our personal stories could make a difference. Maybe.
--Jill Palermo, managing editor of The Prince William Times
Reach the Prince William and Fauquier Times at email@example.com