Sitting on my desk is a little glass bottle that contains a small, snub-nosed 9-millimeter bullet. Most of the time, I ignore it as I go about daily life. But there are many days that it reminds me to be grateful to be alive and doing those many actions that make up daily life, such as wrapping a birthday gift for my grandchild, making out a grocery list, getting a book from the library, hugging my husband.
On Jan. 8, 2011, I was staffing a Congress on Your Corner event in northwest Tucson for my boss and friend, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. My colleague Gabe Zimmerman and I had helped set up the tables, the flags and the chairs a few minutes before 10 a.m. It was a normal day. A few minutes after 10 a.m. I heard popping sounds and must have raised my right arm instinctively. That tiny and potentially lethal bullet sailed through my wrist, entered my chest, narrowly missed my heart and lungs and lodged in my hip.
I was on the pavement before my brain could process that I had been shot. Other bullets connected with vital locations on people around me, snuffing out their lives before I even hit the ground. Gabe was dead and Gabby lay a few feet away from me, a similar bullet having passed through her brain.
News headlines so often report numbers. In our case it was six dead, 13 wounded.
There was no way to fully report the total damage; the thousands of lives devastated and disrupted by the loss of those six individuals or the weeks, months and years of doctor appointments, operations, physical therapy, counseling sessions, chronic pain, PTSD symptoms suffered by the 13 wounded and their loved ones. It is grindingly hard work to be a survivor.
Seven years have passed since that day that shook Tucson to its core. However, when the news broke on Valentine's Day that there had been a horrific school shooting in Florida, it took me right back to the day of the Tucson tragedy. I am now a part of a National Survivor Network of survivors of gun violence. The club none of us wanted to be a part of. Survivors and friends and family of victims—from Sandy Hook, Aurora, Orlando, and the list goes on and on—text and call each other. "Are you OK?" We know each has returned to the day they got the worst news of their life. Other survivors also check in with us and each other, the ones who have no city attached to their tragedy; a child waiting at a bus stop or a husband taken in a random road rage incident. Perhaps not even a mention in the newspaper but lives forever changed.
In the days after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, I got the question over and over. "How are you doing?" My reaction to news of any mass shooting is often to try avoid the heart-wrenching interviews with families of victims. I try to get the news in little digestible pieces.
This time something was different. I let myself watch just a little of a student statement and then more and more. I was riveted by the passion and clarity of these young voices. I taught middle and high school for more than 20 years. I do know the power of young people when they see injustice. I have a surge of hope that these young people, who live with the danger now menacing our schools both public and private, will be the ones who will be the change agents needed to get our political leaders to act.
Since the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, organizations have grown up such as Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action and Giffords, with literally millions of Americans signed up and demanding an end to gun violence in our country. Poll after poll show that the vast majority of Americans, including gun owners, want gun safety legislation such as comprehensive background checks. These groups have the infrastructure to put wind in the sails of the students' message to our elected officials. Do you represent the American people or do you represent those with a great self interest in selling firearms and contributing to campaign coffers of those that do their bidding?
Politicians will have to look into the eyes of the students who lived that horrific day in the halls of a school that should be a safe place and answer that question. And there will be thousands of us standing with these students and demanding action. I plan on joining the students and marching on March 24 and I hope you do too.
If you truly want to support the students, then pick up the phone and let your representatives know you support gun safety legislation and thank those that have already supported legislation. Make a call to thank businesses no longer pandering to the NRA. Go online and sign up with one of the organizations such as Giffords, Moms Demand Action or Everytown. Our young people are leading us to a safer America, the country that they want and indeed that all of us want.
Pam Simon is a survivor of the Tucson shooting and gun violence prevention advocate.