Opinion: Survivors Lend Their Voices to Movement to Fight Gun Violence Crisis

Moms Demand Action holds a rally in Annapolis in 2019. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

My daughter, Julia, and I were both 16 when we survived gun violence. She was threatened online, and I was the victim of an armed robbery. We’re not alone — far from it.

In fact, 58% of adults in the United States report that they or someone they care for has experienced gun violence in their lifetime — the number is even higher at 68% among Black and Latino Americans.

We are part of a nation of survivors. We are members of your family; we are your friends and neighbors. We are parents who never get to hug their children again, gunshot victims living with physical and emotional wounds, and entire families heartbroken by gun suicide. Gun violence survivors may face a lifelong struggle, but they keep going.

We have been sharing our stories as part of the third annual National Gun Violence Survivors Week, which runs through Sunday.

The theme of this year’s National Gun Violence Survivors Week is resilience, something my daughter and I have worked at together to heal from our trauma.

Before I became involved with Moms Demand Action, I never thought of myself or my daughter as gun violence survivors. I thought I had moved on from having my life threatened at gunpoint. But when Julia’s classmate posed with a gun on social media and named her as one of his targets, the fear came rushing back. I felt as terrified as I did years ago, and just as helpless.

National Gun Violence Survivors Week gives those who live with the trauma of gun violence a chance to share their stories and honor the countless individuals touched by gun violence through action.

Why do we honor gun violence survivors the first week of February? Sadly, this marks a grim milestone. By early February, more people are killed with guns in the United States than are killed with guns in other high-income countries in an entire year. The U.S. has a gun death rate 11 times that of those countries and each shooting leaves a ripple effect.

Research shows that gun violence in any form can leave a lasting impact — whether someone has witnessed an act of gun violence, been threatened or wounded with a gun, or had someone they care for injured or killed. This includes gun homicides, police violence, gun suicides, domestic violence involving a gun and unintentional shootings.

Every story is unique, but unfortunately, all survivors are in a club that no one wants to join. By telling our stories, we can support each other and the movement to urge lawmakers to do something about our country’s gun violence crisis.

Here in Maryland, survivors like me have shared their stories with lawmakers and passionate Moms Demand Action volunteers to make the fight against gun violence more than just a statistic.

By lending our voices to the movement, the Maryland Moms Demand Action state chapter has grown. We’ve gone from a few dozen gathered at the statehouse for advocacy day to hundreds of participants at last year’s legislative session. Together, we are determined to strengthen Maryland gun laws and prevent even one more individual from going through the trauma we have.

COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of everyday life, but that won’t prevent us from honoring survivors. This year, we’re planning a safe gathering online where survivors from all across the state can feel welcomed and honored. On Feb. 5, Maryland Moms Demand Action will host an event encouraging people to share pictures of the loved ones they’ve lost through gun violence, hear from community leaders and meet other survivors.

But encouraging survivors to share their stories isn’t limited to one week out of the year. We also encourage survivors to visit Moments That Survive, an online platform where people can share pictures and their experience with gun violence any day of the year. They can also tell their stories on social media using the hashtag #GVSurvivorsWeek. I am humbled by my fellow survivors’ stories every day.

Survivors are strong together. Our stories deserve to be told as part of the movement to protect our friends, family and communities from gun violence. If you have experienced the consequences of gun violence, you are not alone.

— LISA LOWMAN

The writer is a Survivor Fellow with Everytown for Gun Safety and a member of Moms Demand Action Baltimore County.