Earlier this week I joined President Obama and dozens of other gun violence survivors in the East Room of the White House as he announced new executive actions to crack down on gun trafficking. It was a surreal experience that I will never forget, and it represents to me yet another example of the momentum behind gun violence prevention activists right now.
As the president said, innocent lives are being claimed by gun violence every single day. And we can do so much more about it. In my home city of Indianapolis there were more than 140 homicides last year, most of them with firearms. Fortunately, like the president did this week, we are making progress in spite of Congressional inaction. We’re going city by city, state by state, organizing moms, gun violence survivors, and community leaders behind proposals that will save lives.
Change can’t come soon enough, because, frankly, I’m tired of having to console other mothers who are burying their children. As a survivor of gun violence, every time I hear about another shooting my heart breaks and I’m pulled right back to the day when my own son was shot. The images flood my mind: the phone calls, rushing to the hospital, seeing my son lying there without a skull. I relive it over and over again, and it never gets any easier.
My oldest son, DeAndre Knox, was shot on February 1, 2014 by a stray bullet. Because of one bullet, one pull of a trigger, my now 15 year-old son is a quadriplegic who is unable to speak. He didn’t deserve this. He wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time. In fact, he was doing what any teenager should be able to feel safe doing – he was celebrating at a friend’s birthday party. And although my son fought with all his strength not to succumb to his severe injuries, his life is very different now. And the lives of all us connected to Dre.
Dre is a great kid. My son was a high-honor roll student, outstanding football and basketball player who is loved by so many. His smile lights up a room when he walked in…now rolls in. But someone who was so careless and had no regard for life, shot up that birthday party with 22 bullets. He was aiming to kill, with no real target, just hate, hurt, and frustration in his heart. But it was the opposite – the love, kindness, and compassion – that willed my son back to life. And that’s what keeps me going.
People say to me all the time: You are so lucky he is alive. Well yes, I am blessed that my son was not killed. But there is nothing lucky about Dre’s condition. He is not the same Dre. He needs rehabilitation services that we don’t have available in here in Indianapolis, so I have to drive four hours to the rehabilitation center every time I want to see him. When I talk to him on the phone so that he can hear my voice and knows his mama loves him, I patiently wait for a response….I haven’t received one yet….He was silenced too soon. I then have to ask the nurse did he have a reaction to hearing his momma’s voice.
A single bullet changed my life and my son’s life forever.
But it’s not just my son. This is happening every day all across this country. From the all-too-often mass shootings to the day-to-day urban violence in our cities to the unintentional child shootings when a toddler gets hold of a gun because of an adult’s negligence.
If Dre can fight, so can I. And so can our president. I’m thankful that he took action yesterday to crack down on people who are selling guns for profit over the Internet with no license and no background checks conducted.
The problem, as the president pointed out, is that while background checks are required on gun sales at gun shops, they’re not required for sales over the Internet and at gun shows. That happens right in my own city, minutes from where my son was shot. As he said, “we’ve created a system in which dangerous people are allowed to play by a different set of rules than a responsible gun owner who buys his or her gun the right way and subjects themselves to a background check. That doesn’t make sense.”
I agree wholeheartedly and I’m glad the administration is going to make sure that anyone making a living selling guns on the Internet – handing out business cards at gun shows or selling hundreds of guns still in the box they bought them in, for example – is conducting background checks.
Children don’t deserve to be gunned down in our streets, mothers don’t deserve to feel the raw pain of having a child taken, fathers don’t deserve to cry and have sleepless nights, and siblings shouldn’t have to live in fear for their lives.
I won’t stop. I can’t stop. I often joke I’m a mom who won’t shut up. And that’s because I’m on a mission to prevent another mother from burying her child or having to provide total care as I do. That is why I became a part of the Everytown Survivor Network, the largest nationwide group of gun violence survivors. We have united in a way that warms my heart, and they give me strength and encouragement on the darkest days. We share a common bond, and while many would think this is the worst club to be a part of, I know this group is transforming hearts and minds.
We will no longer sit by and allow the silence we have received from our elected leaders to continue. We need our children, and they need us to stand up for them and demand change. If you or someone you love has been personally affected by gun violence, please visit www.everytown.org/survivors.