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A Single Bullet

In the summer of 1978, my seven-year-old brother Christopher was shot in the head by a deranged neighbor. He was a first grader, a skinny little tow-headed boy missing his front teeth. I held him, bleeding in my arms, as my mother drove maniacally to the ER. His eyes fluttered, rolling back in his head as he lost consciousness, his little body twitching violently from the brain damage. I begged him to hold on. My arms were covered in blood. I was fourteen years old.

My brother survived. With multiple brain surgeries and a year of physical therapy, he learned how to use a fork and walk without dragging his leg, and talk normally again. He learned to write with his left hand, as he lost all fine motor skills on his right side. He had to attend school wearing a helmet. His young body was able to heal much of the brain damage, but the emotional damage continues to take its toll. He has been a drug addict all his life. He has violent outbursts. He has been in and out of jail. Though he lived, a part of him died that day--The part that was pure and childlike and trusting. He still has a piece of the bullet in his brain.

My entire family, including my own children, has been affected by what happened to him at seven years old. Generations of our family were shattered by a single bullet. It is a nightmare that refuses to die.

Watching the news coverage of the Sandy Hook massacre that awful Friday morning brought the nightmare into full focus.

The families of the slain at Sandy Hook are enduring unimaginable horror and grief that will affect them for the rest of their lives. The entire school and community is forever scarred. Future generations will feel the repercussions. Those who survived will bear emotional wounds that may never heal.

And yet, people clamor for their rights to assault weapons citing freedom and the second amendment.  They want their rights to military-style killing machines unimpeded, unregulated.

Unless you have held a bleeding child riddled with bullets in your arms, you don't know. You do not know.

Let's talk about rights.

I haven't felt safe in the world since the day my brother was shot. I've had anxiety disorder and panic attacks (which rendered me "uninsurable" -- yet another issue) all my life. I grew up to be a loving, but hovering, overprotective, paranoid mother. My three children have never played outside unattended. I rarely sleep through the night. A maniac with a gun took normalcy from me. Where are my rights?

I, like most of you, am afraid to send my child to school or to a mall or to the movies or to see a congresswoman in front of a Safeway store. Where are our rights?

Where were the rights of the children, the teachers, the principals who died? Didn't they have the right to attend school peacefully and without fear? Where are the rights of those parents to see their children grow and thrive, to walk their daughters down the aisle, to hold grandchildren in their arms one day? Where were their rights?

Since when does the second amendment get to trample over the rights of the rest of us--our right to Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our right to feel safe in the world.

The NRA has had our politicians in their pockets for far too long. They have towered over us, the bully on the schoolyard that no one will stand up to. I have never been able to abide bullies. As a mother, I will not rest until assault weapons are banned in this country. As a citizen, I won't stand by and watch the NRA take my freedom away with their lobbying and their money and their weapons.

I have been rocked to my core by this horrific tragedy, and I can not go back to life as normal.

If we offer words of consolation but do nothing to change this epidemic of gun violence, we are no better than the gunman.

Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel said, "We suffered not only from the cruelty of killers, but also from the indifference of bystanders. I believe that a person who is indifferent to the suffering of others is complicit in the crime. And that I cannot allow, at least not for myself."

I'm with him.

BE A CITIZEN CO-SPONSOR of Senator Dianne Feinstein's bill to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. Support President Obama as he works to get it passed in Congress. PRESSURE your Senators. We, the people, have the power!

FACTS about gun violence in America.
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Hollye Dexter is co-editor of Dancing At the Shame Prom (Seal Press), and recently completed a second memoir, What Doesn't Kill You. Her essays have been published in anthologies and in many online publications. A singer/songwriter with four albums (more...)
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