An open letter to Arizona Senator Jeff Flake
Dear Mr. Flake,
I’m not sure how I, a little old lady in a wheelchair, became such a menace that the entrances to your building were blockaded when a group of moms impacted by gun violence announced we’d be coming.
It was the invitation to dinner. Wasn’t it?
The gun lobby has had access to discuss the issue of gun violence; they’ve donated more than $360,000 to your campaigns. I want equal access.
Nine years ago, I was shot in the back and paralyzed. David, my fiancé, was shot 3 times – one of those .45 caliber bullets roared through his skull leaving him blind and with a significant brain injury that stole the essence of who he was.
Now I pore through studies, reports, and news stories. I talk to cops, victims, families, offenders, medical personnel and gun owners. You might be surprised to know that I own guns although it’s only been the last few months that I’ve been back to the range. I found my competitive spirit alive and well along with my aim. I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and an equally strong supporter of sensible gun reform.
There’s something you need to know about my shooting: my fiancé was armed at the time… Yes, a good guy with a gun…
After other requests to meet with you went unanswered, I, along with 21 other families touched by gun violence in Arizona, sent emails (followed up by faxes, phone calls and snail mail) sharing our stories and invitations to a private dinner. This wasn’t a trick. We hoped that one of our stories might move you to accept this genuine offer. Our invitations haven’t even received a form-written “no thank you.”
I planned a great low-key evening; no media, no cameras or recorders. (OK, I’d ask for a photo with you and yes, I’d post that to Facebook afterward.) You are sincerely welcomed into my home.
First, you’d meet Pearl, my service dog, the diva who makes my independent life possible and Porter, my service-dog-in- training.
Compared to my pre-injury life, my home is now small and informal. Sometimes that still embarrasses me. You can’t help but notice my lowered counters and ramped doorways; these modifications ensure my independence. Many people are initially ill-at-ease; unsure how my new life works. It’s ok to ask about my modifications, some of them are cool.
Everything would be tasty but humble. Maybe we’d start with my jalapeño hummus; everyone compliments that dish. Do you like spicy food?
With dinner ready, I’d ask you to carry the hottest and heaviest dishes because it’s hard for me to push my wheelchair with my hands full. I hope you’d bless our meal and conversation Mr. Flake. I’m not a believer but I am a respecter of faith. I know faith is important to you.
We’d talk about our families; your 5 children, my son who now has to worry about his college debt because of money taken from his college savings to pay my medical bills.
I’d tell you about the night of the shooting. David and I were holding hands and making wedding plans when 5 shots rang out. My son was rushed from his bed to a trauma room that reeked of blood and antiseptic to say goodbye to his dying mother. When I finally awoke to learn I was paralyzed, he was holding my hand. He was twelve. No child should ever have to be that strong or brave.
You and David have a lot in common with your love of fitness. David changed our community using martial arts as a vehicle to help shape kids others had given up on. Initially, I spoon-fed him, shaved him, soothed his nightmares and narrated the darkness in which he now lives. My own healing and adjustment to paralysis was so much harder without David’s steadiness.
I’d make a wisecrack to lighten the mood because I hate when things get too dark.
Then, I’d ask why, if you had reservations, you didn’t collaborate to change the Toomey-Manchin amendment so you could sign it.
You already know that conservative polls show more than 75% of Americans support UBCs. The majority of polls put that number at 90% for Arizona, including 84% of gun owners.
I’d share stories of survivors who might never have experienced gun violence if the offender had to undergo a background check – especially those who experienced gun violence as a result of repeat domestic violence.
I believe UBCs might have prevented our shooting.
Do you know, Mr. Flake, that every day 260 people are shot; 84 of those people – 8 of whom are children- die? When we frame our gun reform discussions solely around horrific mass shootings, as tragic as they are, we miss the day-to-day public health crisis happening across our nation.
You and I agree that gun violence won’t be fixed by a single solution. We need a broad discussion from mental health solutions to military-style weapons and high-capacity clips and the federal law on straw purchases and gun trafficking that could make Arizona’s border safer. A federal law on straw purchases might have stopped Newtown, and probably Columbine.
We’d touch on Tucson and Gabby.
My friends involved in the Tucson shooting note that you drove so fast from Mesa that Gabby’s folks from Sonoita arrived after you.
They’ve recounted how much your presence meant in those first hours of shock and horror. They’re confused that you saw so much death and devastation first-hand yet stand silent on gun violence.
Over dessert, I’d ask for your pledge to redraft bipartisan legislation. For Gabby – for whom you broke a land speed record racing to her side- and for people like me and my son, and all the lives shattered by gun violence.
We’d part with a warm handshake and I hope an agreement to continue a dialogue on this issue and work to a compromise.
But, that dinner didn’t happen.
Each day you ignore the conversation, another 260 Americans are shot. One day, another horrific mass shooting will occur that shocks us into demanding action. We’ll wonder why it’s still not done. While you’ve talked about “the beauty of a six-year term,” we who lose family members or our health and vitality to gun violence don’t forget.
Do I in my wheelchair remain one of the most dangerous people in Arizona, worthy of barricades and chains to try to keep me away? Most legislators find it far easier to stick to the stairs. I’m easy to avoid that way and you get the cardio.
My invitation to join me for a meal and discussion of sensible gun reform remains on the table. I hope you’ll see I pose no threat— other than to your toes— and accept this genuine offer.
Powerful words, more generous than anything I have to say to Bishop Flake.