Lori Haas: The magnitude of the Newtown shooting shocked me
Haas: It reminds me of when my daughter was injured in the Virginia Tech shooting
She says our elected leaders have abandoned all sense of right and wrong
Haas: How many victims would be alive today if leaders took their responsibilities to heart?
Editor’s Note: Lori Haas lives in Richmond, Virginia. After her daughter Emily was shot and injured at the Virginia Tech massacre, she became involved in gun violence prevention efforts, working for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Sitting in front of the TV on Friday, I watched in horror as the death toll climbed with each news report coming in on the mass shooting in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. The magnitude of the shooting shocked me.
It also took me back to five years ago, when I received a phone call on a blustery April morning that changed my life forever. I was out shopping, and my cell phone had rung several times, but I had chosen to ignore the calls. Luckily, I answered the third call, which came in at 10:38 a.m. My daughter Emily, then a sophomore at Virginia Tech, was on the phone. She said, “Mommy, I’ve been shot.”
Clutching the phone, my knees buckling, I tried to make sense of what I was hearing. Emily quickly handed the phone to the EMT who had triaged her and was waiting with her for an ambulance. The EMT assured me that Emily was going to be fine, that there were very seriously wounded students that needed to be transported immediately and she was waiting with Emily for the next ambulance. She also shared that the situation on campus was “very bad.”
The world soon knew how bad it was. The incident at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, remains the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in terms of casualties. Thirty-two students and school staff were killed that morning by a dangerously mentally ill student with guns, including high-capacity magazines. The killer should have been prevented from purchasing firearms, but when he purchased his weapons, his mental health records were not in the FBI database against which background checks are run. He used 30-round magazines, which had been outlawed up until 2004, when Congress let the Assault Weapons Ban expire.
We were one of the lucky families – our daughter survived, when so many others did not. Eleven of the 17 students in her classroom were killed, along with her professor. A classmate dialed 911 when they first heard the shooter, but dropped his cell phone when almost immediately, the killer burst into the classroom and began spraying bullets at everyone. Emily reached over and picked up the phone and kept the dispatcher on the phone during the entire ordeal by hiding the phone. Law enforcement repeatedly told me how brave Emily was to keep them on the line.
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Law enforcement has also told me that the single most effective thing we can do to prevent gun violence would be to require all purchasers for all gun sales to undergo a background check. Then-Gov. Tim Kaine appointed a panel of experts to investigate all aspects of the massacre and report back their recommendations. Recommendation VI-2 stated, “Virginia should require background checks for all firearms sales.” Sadly, that hasn’t happened, and gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle deaths in my state.
America has witnessed mass shooting tragedies grow in frequency in the last five years to the point that, according to one report, there have been 16 mass shootings between February 22, 2012, and December 14, 2012, leaving over 80 dead and many injured. I can’t help but ache with sorrow, anguish and concern for all those families suffering the sheer agony that I saw the families of the 32 killed at Virginia Tech suffer.
And I can’t help but be angered at the cowardly behavior from our elected leaders. They have abandoned all sense of right and wrong, despite epidemic deaths from guns, and ignored their duty not only to keep our communities safe from gun violence, but to keep our children safe as well.
When I think of those killed – over 60,000 Americans have been murdered with guns since the shooting at Virginia Tech – I have to wonder how many might be alive today if our elected leaders had taken to heart their responsibilities.
Why is it that our elected leaders have not only ignored the pleas of survivors and family members of victims of gun violence, but those of our public safety officials – police and law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line day in and day out – only to listen to the gun lobby when determining public safety policy? What sense can that make when the gun lobby’s sole purpose is to sell as many firearms as possible to make as much money as possible?
We have come to a time when many say the unimaginable has happened again – the mass shooting in the Newtown school where 26 people were killed, including 20 children. It is sheer senselessness. My heart goes out with the utmost compassion to the families suffering so terribly from Friday’s massacre.
For those whose loved ones have been killed, there is no real closure; there are permanent holes in their hearts. Time may lend a helping hand to healing, but their lives have been changed irrevocably. As my friend Lynnette, whose son was murdered in the Virginia Tech shooting, laments, “There is no ending to the heartache.” I am brought to tears thinking of all we have seen, all we have not done and all we have let die.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lori Haas.