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.
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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
I'm with him.
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...