The Unseen Victims of Gun Violence

Washington DC: Eddie at the National Vigil for Victims of Gun Violence this December, holding a photo of his mother.

Eddie Weingart was a voice for the voiceless. He was a powerful activist for ending gun violence, and an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights. He was a fixture in Washington DC, speaking at rallies and marches. A massage therapist by trade, Eddie dedicated his life to healing others, and was a positive, uplifting, supportive friend who was absolutely beloved by all who knew him. On January 11th, Eddie took his own life. He did not use a gun, but Eddie was a victim of gun violence. He is just one of the many casualties the media doesn’t cover.

Eddie was only a toddler when he witnessed his stepfather shoot and kill his mother. Eddie’s stepfather then put the barrel of the gun in little Eddie’s mouth and pulled the trigger twice, but the gun jammed. Eddie remembered sitting beside his mother’s lifeless body as her blood pooled and soaked into his diaper. All his life, he said he could still remember the metallic smell of her blood.

Eddie had been in and out of therapy since he was a child. He worked hard to recover from the PTSD of gun violence, and devoted his life to being of service and healing others, but some wounds are just too deep to heal. I know this from experience.

Forty years ago, my seven-year-old brother was shot in the head by a neighborhood teen, playing with his father’s gun. I held my brother in my arms as my mother frantically ran red lights all the way to the hospital. His eyes fluttered, his body spasmed and he lost consciousness. My arms were covered in my brother’s blood. I was fourteen.

My brother survived, but he lives with traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD. The bullet is still in his brain. He is prone to emotional breakdowns and spontaneous rages. This October, we had to hospitalize him when he became suicidal. Forty years later, we are still trying to save his life. My brother is yet another of the unseen victims of gun violence.

DeAndra’s son Dre was just thirteen years old when he was shot at a birthday party. Dre is now nonverbal and quadroplegic. DeAndra devotes her life to Dre’s full-time care.

We often hear about the over 33,000 Americans killed by guns every year, but we don’t hear about the more than 80,000 gunshot victims who survive. We don’t hear about the grueling trials, medical bills, the lifelong physical and emotional complications, the inability to work. We don’t hear about those who survive the loss of a loved one; the grieving parents, widows, and children left behind. No one reports on the trauma experienced by the witnesses, the EMTs, the police, the people who clean up the blood and the mess. We don’t hear about the marriages that crumble in the aftermath, the parents who die of heart attack or cancer, or suicide, after the loss of a child. We don’t hear about the mothers who give up their own lives and lose their careers so they can care for an incapacitated child, or the community members whose sense of safety and justice has been forever shattered.

Patrick Prag was a flight RN. After airlifting kids out of Columbine, severe PTSD ended his career, and set him on a downward spiral. It took him years of counseling to heal. Today, Pat is a psychotherapist who helps first responders through their traumatic experiences.

The Vegas shooting in 2017 left 58 dead, and 546 wounded, not to mention over 20,000 who ran for their lives, the hundreds who witnessed the deaths, the ones who attended the dying, who attempted and failed to save lives. Most, if not all of them, will live with PTSD, nightmares, and depression. Most of them will likely never feel safe attending a concert or a public event again. It will affect their work lives, their relationships, the way they raise their children. We haven’t even begun to see the fallout from this tragedy. Gun violence is an epidemic, a monster with vile tentacles that reach far and wide. It is a public health crisis of epic proportion to which our nation’s leaders and legislators have turned a blind eye.

We all know that until you admit there is a problem, nothing will change. Not only has Congress done nothing to address this epidemic that kills more than 33,000 Americans every year, the GOP members of Congress, deep in the pocket of the NRA, won’t even utter the words “gun violence,” nor will they allow any funding for research. Maybe it’s time for us, victims and survivors of the gun violence epidemic, to have our own #MeToo type of movement. It’s time this nation and the world sees how many of us there truly are. It’s time for us, all of us, to stand up and be counted.

I’ll start.

My name is Hollye.

I am a survivor of gun violence. I witnessed my brother’s shooting. I witnessed my neighbor Don commit suicide by gun in front of my childhood home. My best friend Dani survived being shot five times by her ex-husband, in front of her two toddler daughters. I have many friends who have been shot, and who have lost children to gun violence. I have witnessed their pain and their tears. And I just lost a survivor friend, Eddie Weingart, to suicide. Gun violence has affected my life, my emotional well being and the way I have raised my three children.

I am part of a large, national family of survivors. I will honor Eddie’s life, and all victims of gun violence, with not just my words but with my actions. I will vote in every election for candidates who vow to support common sense gun laws. I will use to my life to fight for your rights to live in a country free from gun violence. I will work with everything in me, to spare you from joining our family.

#IAmASurvivor

Your turn…

Having experienced gun violence in her own family, Hollye Dexter is an author and dedicated advocate for gun reform, and serves on the Board of Directors of Women Against Gun Violence and Survivors Empowered.