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From Tucson to Virginia Tech: Shooting Survivor Calls for Gun Control

StoryJanuary 27, 2011
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Thirty-two people died in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, six died in the Tucson attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and 34 people are killed by a bullet every day in the United States. However, President Obama made no mention of gun control during his State of the Union address Tuesday. White House advisers say he will soon unveil new gun control efforts to strengthen current laws that allow mentally unstable people, such as alleged Arizona shooter Jared Loughner, to purchase assault weapons without a background check. We speak with Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting massacre who, after recovering and finishing his degree, decided to work with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the nation’s largest gun control organization. His story is told in Living for 32, a new documentary that just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. We also hear from former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson about a bill passed Wednesday by the Utah House of Representatives to make the Browning M1911 pistol the official state gun. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryJan 13, 2011Obama Calls for “Civil and Honest Public Discourse” at Tucson Shooting Memorial
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Park City, Utah, from the Sundance Film Festival. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn to the issue of guns. President Obama made no mention of the hot-button topic of gun control during his hour-long State of the Union address on Tuesday, even as he paid tribute to Congressmember Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona. Top White House advisers say the omission of gun control was intentional. They say he’ll soon unveil new gun control efforts that aim to strengthen current laws. Some of those laws allow mentally unstable people, such as Jared Loughner, the alleged Arizona gunman, to purchase assault weapons without a background check.

Well, a new documentary here at the Sundance Film Festival features a young activist who is already tackling the topic of gun control. It’s called Living for 32. It features the story of Colin Goddard. He’s a survivor of the shooting in 2007 on the Virginia Tech campus that left 32 people dead. Here’s an excerpt from the film.

COLIN GODDARD: The teacher went to the door to look into the hallway to see what was going on and making all that noise. And as soon as she opened it, she shut it back again and said, “Everyone, get underneath your desks, and somebody call 911.” I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. And I said that “We’re in Norris Hall. I think there’s a shooting going on.” And as soon as I basically got that out, we saw bullets coming through our door. Everyone jumped underneath their desks and went to the floor.

REPORTER: You’re seeing police out with their weapons drawn; students out, looking, trying to see what’s going on, running out of buildings.

COLIN GODDARD: All the major doors to our building were chained shut from the inside, and they had a sign on them, says, “If you open this door, it will explode.”

I came full circle with the situation when I was shot the first time in my left knee. Sure enough, you feel that sensation of a huge push and a sharp sting, and you feel the blood kind of trickle down your leg and you feel it kind of warm on your body.

And then the bangs just got much louder again. You could tell he was back in our room. This time he more methodically came down each of the rows and was still firing. At one point he was standing at my feet. And that’s when I was shot a second time in my left hip.

EYEWITNESS: Some gunshots. Whoa!

COLIN GODDARD: And he shot me a third time in my right shoulder. And then it flipped my whole body around, and that exposed my right side, and I was shot for a fourth time in my right hip. It seems that I only remember a couple more gunshots after that, and then everything got quiet. Just as it all started, it all just stopped.

It just felt like an eternity before the police got to our door and tried to open it up and couldn’t open the door. They had to ask for help from the inside to help them open the door, because there were bodies in the way. And as soon as the police came into the room, they said, “Shooter down.” And that’s when I was like, “Shooter down? What?” I didn’t know that he had committed suicide in the front of our classroom.

Soon after that, the police and the medic staff came in and began their triage of all the students lying on the floor. And I remember hearing them walk up to people, say, “This person is yellow. This person is red.” And then I heard, “Black tag, black tag, black tag.” And that’s when I realized that there were other students in here who didn’t make it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt from the new documentary called Living for 32. It features the story of Colin Goddard, a student who was shot during the Virginia Tech massacre. Colin joins us here in Park City, Utah, where the film is premiering.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Colin.

COLIN GODDARD: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to be with you. Just meeting you, and you said this — Democracy Now! was assigned viewing in your class in Virginia Tech?

COLIN GODDARD: Yeah. Actually, after the shooting, I took a class that was not even required for my major, but it was an interesting topic, and the teacher was amazing. And he, you know, showed me the program, and I’ve been watching it ever since.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened on that fateful day that you’ve just described, on April 16, 2007? You were shot four times? The Tucson massacre takes place. What kind of reaction did you have when you heard that?

COLIN GODDARD: I was actually stepping out of my apartment to go have brunch with some friends, and the director of the film called me up and told me, you know, “You’ve got to check the news. There’s been a congresswoman shot. It’s going to be all over. You’ve got to start talking about it.” And I was like, Ah, you know — you know, from all this progress and all the hard work that we’re trying to do, when you hear about another family is going through the same thing that I had went through, my whole family went through, and so many other families did, it just brings you right back to it. And it’s like, you know, can we do nothing? Can we not do something to make this less likely to happen to other people? You know, it’s tough. But, you know.

AMY GOODMAN: Your mom, in the film, Living for 32, says she does not want this to be the defining moment of your life, being shot, this horrendous massacre that took place. And yet it has become the defining issue in your life.

ANN CURRY: Colin Goddard is recovering with his family by his side, his parents Anne and Andrew and little sister Emma. I know it’s a hard morning, especially today for you, Colin, because I’m understanding that you’re in some pain, so thank you for joining us to talk to us. I understand that you were hit three times — in the shoulder, in the buttocks and also in the leg — and that they put a steel rod to help you stand and walk, and that you actually stood on your own yesterday, and you want to run soon. Is that what I’m hearing? Am I hearing this right?

COLIN GODDARD: Well, I want to have the quickest recovery that I can, so, you know, whatever I’ve got to do to do that, I’ll do it.

ANN CURRY: How are you doing, and what do you need to get better from this, emotionally?

COLIN GODDARD: The best way, I think, would be to just return to the community, return to my friends, return to my daily routine, and try to just grind it out through then, and then try to get it as much back to normal as I can.

I was 17 when I first came here. I’m 24. Damn. I was a little cadet running around there with my uniform, getting yelled at by upperclassmen.

I was one of seven students to survive out of a class of 17. My teacher was killed, and there were some students in my class who weren’t there that day. I don’t know why. I know that there were people who were killed all around me that did nothing different than I did, and I just got lucky. People tell me that God was looking out for me that day, that’s why I’m here. I don’t know how much of that I can take in. I mean, like I said, I did nothing different than people lying next to me. You know, God was looking out for them, too, I’m sure.

People were very surprised that I came back to this school, but in my mind there was no other choice. I had to finish it out here. This will always be a special place for me. Home of the Hokies.

AMY GOODMAN: After graduating from Virginia Tech — and many were surprised you went back to Virginia Tech, but you did.


AMY GOODMAN: You’ve now gone to Washington. Talk about your efforts there.

COLIN GODDARD: Well, I mean, you know, it took me about two years for me to get to the point where I could share my story and be involved in the gun violence prevention Movement. You know, any time something crazy like this happens to you, no matter what it is, you try to figure out why and how. And while we tried to find those answers, we learned about, you know, the loopholes in the laws that do and don’t exist with firearms, as well as mental health and school policies. And I felt like there was progress in those other two areas, but not so much in firearms. That seems to — you know, any sort of legislation on Capitol Hill seems to be dead on arrival, which is — you know, I don’t understand why. So, my quest is to understand kind of why things are the way they are on Capitol Hill.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the gun show loophole?

COLIN GODDARD: Right. The gun show loophole allows private sellers who frequent these gun shows on weekends to sell guns to the population, the general population of attendees who attend, without requiring background checks on anyone who buys from them. Legally, by law, they’re required to know the age of the purchaser, as well as the state of residency, which is important, but not the ultimate information they’d like to know, which is, you know, any sort of felony records or history of mental illness, domestic violence restraining orders. So you can literally go to these gun shows and purchase the same weapons at the same place, two tables over, one with a background check and one without. And —

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to a clip of the film. In this excerpt, a hidden camera follows —- I think it’s you -—


AMY GOODMAN: — buying weapons at a gun show.

COLIN GODDARD: How are you doing, sir? Wonder if we can see your Maadi Egyptian. Been looking at that thing.

This thing is pretty diesel, dude.

FRIEND: Pretty good?

COLIN GODDARD: Yeah. Expanded stock, 30-round clip.

You want $660 for it?

GUN SELLER: Yeah, out the door. Have to be over 18 and an Ohio resident. There’s no tax and no paperwork. Oh, and I need to see your driver’s license.

COLIN GODDARD: I don’t have it on me.

GUN SELLER: Umm… Do you have it in your car? Are you an Ohio resident?

COLIN GODDARD: [answers in affirmative]

GUN SELLER: What’s your address?

COLIN GODDARD: If you’ve been to one gun show, you’ve been to all the gun shows. It’s pretty much the same. You pay your — I think it was eight bucks, entry fee. You know, you walk in. You walk past a guy who asks you if you have any concealed weapons on you, and you start walking around looking at stuff. Then you keep going, and then, you know, every once in a while, you’ll see a guy that’s got, you know, just a couple of guns on the table, doesn’t really look that official, doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t have a phone. You know, you go up to him, you start talking to him, and you ask him, you know, what do you got to do to buy this gun that he’s got. And he says — you know, sometimes all you need is a license. And sometimes you don’t even need that. If you tell him you don’t have it, like I told him, you know, he’s like, “Alright, well, that’s alright.”

So, this is what we bought today at a gun show in Ohio.

FRIEND: With no background check.

COLIN GODDARD: No license shown.

FRIEND: Not a lot of cash.

COLIN GODDARD: The private sellers are only required by law to ask for verification that you’re over 18 years old, or 21 for a handgun, and you’re a resident of that state. You know, that’s important information, but that’s not the most critical information that they should know. What we’re trying to do is enforce the law that’s already on the books, the law that says if you are a felon or if you’re mentally ill, you cannot own a gun. This is enforcing that law. I wanted to bring the gun show to people, instead of telling people to go to gun shows and look at this themselves. I wanted them to not have to go through all that.

ANDREW GODDARD: Make it easy for people, put it right there in front of their faces, hang it in front of them on a TV screen and say, “Look, this is legal. All of this is legal. Everything that was done is legal. Do you want it to be legal? Do you think that that makes you safe, that this kind of thing is legal?”

AMY GOODMAN: Yes, an excerpt of the film Living for 32, a documentary that premiered this week at the Sundance Film Festival. And that was Colin Goddard, with his dad, who’s joining him in this campaign. The gun show was amazing. You didn’t even have a driver’s license. You didn’t have anything you were supposed to have.


AMY GOODMAN: And you got — describe the gun you got.

COLIN GODDARD: Well, you know, during that summer tour we did, we purchased 9mms, 22s, MAC-11s, TEC-9s, even AK-47s, from sellers, who didn’t seem to care who they were selling to. As long as, you know, they got their $400 and $500, that was the most important thing to them. And they didn’t know — you know, they really didn’t care who they sold it to.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to talk about what’s happening here in Utah. This is an excerpt of a conversation I had with former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson after we did the show yesterday. He had joined us to talk about the State of the Union address, and I asked him about a bill here before the state House that would make — that would establish a state gun in Utah.

AMY GOODMAN: Utah state lawmakers — this is hot off the press — are debating whether to designate a semi-automatic pistol as the official gun of Utah, despite protests from people who believe it’s inappropriate because of the recent mass shootings in Tucson, Arizona.

ROCKY ANDERSON: Well, it was inappropriate long before that. But I think the reason this is being pushed is because it’s a Browning gun, and the Browning family was from Ogden, Utah. So they have these Utah connections.


ROCKY ANDERSON: But it’s — yeah, it’s not that dissimilar from the Glock semi-automatic weapon that was used in Tucson. I think to glorify any weapon like that is obscene and yet another embarrassment to the state of Utah.

AMY GOODMAN: That was the former Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson. Well, the Utah House passed the state gun law measure by a vote of 51 to 19. We will see if it passes the whole legislature. Your response, Colin Goddard? Overall, what you’re demanding? A Glock was used in Tucson. A Glock was used to shoot you and kill so many others in Virginia Tech.

COLIN GODDARD: We need to improve the background check system that’s already there. It works, but it’s not perfect. All the mental health records need to be there, as well as domestic violence restraining orders. All the records need to be in the system. We need to apply that check on a broader scale, to private sellers at gun shows. So if you put all the records in the system, if you don’t check someone with it, it doesn’t really matter.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you disappointed President Obama didn’t raise gun control in the State of the Union address?

COLIN GODDARD: You know, it might not have been the best moment for that, but I’m hopeful that he will address it soon.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Colin, thanks so much for being with us. That does it for the show. The film, Living for 32, online.

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