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To gun violence survivors, here is why I hope you share your story

To: Gun violence survivors

From: Taina Patterson (As told to Lauren Brill)

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Dear Gun Violence Survivors, 

There was a time in my life when I didn’t share my story. And, honestly, I didn’t think it mattered. 

I grew up in Oceanside, California. We had a lot of gangs. And with gang violence came gun violence. In second grade, a man was shot right outside our apartment complex. Despite many people reporting the shooting, his body was left outside in the middle of our neighborhood for days. When the authorities finally picked up his remains, the blood already seeped into the pavement and left a stain. Even though I was so young, everyone talked about what had happened. So, when I walked past the stain, I knew exactly what it was and why it was there. 

For me, gun violence was normal. And a lot of people in my neighborhood said they needed guns to protect themselves. I, too, believe in the second amendment and the right to bear arms. However, we need more legislation to keep our country as safe as possible. 

According to Giffords Law Center, Americans are 25 times more likely to be killed in a gun homicide than people in other high-income countries. An average of 100 people die daily in this country from gun violence. More than a million Americans have been shot in the last decade. 

When I was 15 years old, I realized first-hand how a flawed system puts so many people in danger, myself included. My mom was going through a breakup. He was struggling with addiction, and my mother decided it would be best for all of us if she ended the relationship. But that’s not what he wanted. He was uncontrollably angry and showed up at our front door, screaming and banging, while arguing with my mom. 

Then, I heard him say, “I have a gun.”

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In a panic, I grabbed my two younger sisters and brought them into a room, where we hid on the ground while my mother tried to de-escalate the situation. We were terrified as we prayed for our and our mother’s safety. We had no idea what would happen or what we should do. Thankfully, a neighbor threatened to call the police and he left. While we were unharmed physically and emotionally, we were incredibly traumatized. 

At first, we didn’t talk about it. We all tried to forget that it even happened. But it wasn’t that easy. To this day, at 21 years old,  I am scared of guns. I am terrified that, at any moment, I could be shot.

I am terrified that, at any moment, I could be shot.

 Wherever I am, I think to myself, “If somebody came in here with a gun, how am I going to get out of the situation? How am I going to survive?”

Even so, I didn’t realize the importance of sharing my story until a few years later when I crossed paths with an organization advocating against gun violence. They were called Moms Demand Action. They asked if anybody identified as a gun violence survivor, and nobody raised their hand. 

Then they asked: 

“Who knows someone who has been shot?”

“Who has been threatened with a gun?”

“Who has been in contact with a gun negatively?”

My hand was the first to go up that day, and I shared a bit of my story. Then, another hand went up, and another and another. Suddenly, we realized we weren’t alone and we started to talk about how we could make a difference. 

Since then, I have become an outspoken advocate for stronger gun laws, meeting with lawmakers and joining organizations. We need more restrictions, so it’s harder for guns to get into the hands of people who don’t use them responsibly. 

As you know, bullets don’t discriminate. Gun violence can happen to anyone – just like it happened to us. 

I know a lot of us have trauma, and sometimes it feels like it would be easier to forget what’s happened to us rather than to face it. 

But I am writing to you because I want you to know that we need your voice. Your story, like mine, matters. That’s because the more people who share their truth, the more power we have to create change. 

Together, we can save lives. 

Taina Patterson
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