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As Arizona Remembers Tucson Shooting, Virginia Tech Massacre Survivor Calls for New Gun Control

StoryJanuary 09, 2012
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Thousands of people gathered Sunday in Tucson, Arizona, for a candlelight vigil remembering the six people killed in last year’s deadly shooting that left Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded. Giffords, still recovering from her injuries, addressed the crowd. Meanwhile, Jared Loughner, who was arrested and charged with attempting to assassinate Giffords, has pleaded not guilty and been found unfit to stand trial because of mental illness. Despite repeated calls for greater gun control in the year since the shooting, little has been done, and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun purchases has not been fully implemented. “I think a lot of Americans already think that we do background checks on everybody and are surprised to learn that we don’t… At the minimum, we should be doing a background check,” says Colin Goddard, who has worked tirelessly for gun control since he survived the 2007 shooting on the Virginia Tech campus that left 32 people dead. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Thousands of people gathered in Tucson, Arizona, Sunday for a candlelight vigil remembering the six people killed in last year’s deadly shooting that left Congress Member Gabrielle Giffords gravely wounded. The shooting occurred January 8th, 2011, outside a supermarket where Giffords was meeting with constituents. On Sunday, the Arizona Democrat led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance.

REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS: …indivisible, and with liberty and justice for all.

AMY GOODMAN: The attack that targeted Democratic Congress Member Gabrielle Giffords left six people dead, 13 others injured. Twenty-three-year-old college dropout, Jared Loughner, was arrested and charged with attempting to assassinate Giffords. He later pleaded not guilty, was found unfit to stand trial. Congress Member Giffords is still recovering from her injuries. She spent the last year in Houston undergoing intensive physical and speech therapy. Doctors say it will take many months to determine the lasting effects of her brain injury.

As Tucson residents remembered the shooting attack this weekend, the city also hosted the Crossroads of the West gun show. Last year, thousands turned out for the gun show one week after the shooting.

Well, on this first anniversary of the shooting, despite repeated calls for greater gun control, little has been done. Earlier this year, writing in the Arizona Daily Star, President Obama expressed regret that, quote, “A man our Army rejected as unfit for service; a man one of our colleges deemed too unstable for studies; a man apparently bent on violence, was able to walk into a store and buy a gun.” Obama went on to say that, quote, “The National Instant Criminal Background Check System is the filter that’s supposed to stop the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. Bipartisan legislation four years ago was supposed to strengthen this system, but it hasn’t been properly implemented,” end-quote. In fact, the only gun control bill to reach a vote in Congress since the Tucson shooting would make it easier to carry concealed weapons across state lines.

One person who has been working tirelessly for gun control is Colin Goddard. He was the subject of a documentary that premiered at Sundance last year called Living for 32. It’s when we first met him. Colin is a survivor of the shooting in 2007 on the Virginia Tech campus that left 32 people dead. This is an excerpt from that 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: An excerpt from the documentary called Living for 32, produced by Maria Cuomo Cole, the sister of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The film features the story of Colin Goddard, the student who was shot during the Virginia Tech massacre. He joins us now from Washington, D.C.

On this first anniversary of the Tucson shooting, Colin, your thoughts?

COLIN GODDARD: Well, yesterday was a very tough day, a somber day. I mean, there were thousands of people who gathered in Tucson, and we would help organize thousands of other Americans to gather in their communities across the country to also recognize the significance of yesterday and to talk about their own personal instances of gun violence and realize that in their community there are a lot more people in there who have experienced something similar to that, and connecting with those people is helpful. So I think a lot of people gained a lot from coming together to remember last night. And we all came together to remember that, you know, something needs to be done. We have too many victims of gun violence in America. And we have to do something about this. We can’t just let it continue like this.

AMY GOODMAN: What has happened, in terms of gun control? I mean, just looking at some of the polls, since that’s a favorite these days, is to just do news by polls, from Businessweek in late October, Gallup reported a record low 26 percent of Americans favor a ban on civilian possession of handguns, down from 60 percent when Gallup first asked the question in 1959.

COLIN GODDARD: Right. Well, that’s—in my opinion, that question is very dated. I mean, what—the issues we work on every single day is not about banning handguns. You now, we talk about now something much more commonsense, much more reasonable, in my opinion, such as, let’s do a background check on everybody before they buy a gun. I mean, you mentioned the Crossroads of the West gun show. There were people selling guns in that gun show to strangers they have never met before, not even with a background check. You know? When you allow people to sell guns like that to just anyone who has enough cash, in the middle of public, you know, everyone is at risk from getting shot when you allow guns to be traded in such a way. So we need to legitimize the gun market, not ban all guns, but make it more difficult for dangerous people to just walk into somewhere and walk out with a gun.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to the film about you, Living for 32, in which you, Colin, go to a gun show and try to purchase a gun. This is the clip.

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: That’s Colin Goddard with his father in the film Living for 32. So, Colin, you go to try to get a gun. It’s easy. It’s worth noting that right after the shooting last year, New York undercover cops went to the very gun show that’s happening right now in Tucson and attempted to buy a gun. And even when they said that they probably couldn’t pass a background check, they could get semi-automatic weapons. Colin Goddard, how powerful is the National Rifle Association today?

COLIN GODDARD: Well, I’ve only had a limited experience on Capitol Hill, but it’s been disheartening to learn of the large number of our elected officials that have the interest of another big business organization, the gun manufacturing industry, and their NRA, the lobbyist group, much more at high priority than the interest of the average American citizen, who is getting shot and getting killed by these guns at a rate much higher than any other modern industrialized country. And I think, you know, a lot of the power is perception and what you perceive power to be, in how much power the NRA has.

But at the same time, you know, we’ve also been building in states across the country about this issue of, you know, doing background checks on everybody. I think a lot of Americans already think that we do background checks on everybody and are surprised to learn that we don’t. So, what we have to do is educate people and say, “Look, this is happening. This is legal. Do you want this to be legal? Is this something that makes you feel safe, when guns are being sold to complete strangers with no background check?” At the minimum, we should be doing a background check. And from my experiences taking the film across the country and speaking in different events, and even speaking last night, a lot of people think that, you know, background checks are something we need to do on all gun sales.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, Congress Member Giffords was a staunch defender of the Second Amendment, a gun owner herself. She signed an amicus brief in support of the D.C. Supreme Court case that overturned the D.C. gun ban and said that it was “a common sense decision that reaffirms the Constitutional right — and Arizona tradition — of owning firearms.” She said, “I commend the Court for ruling in favor of restoring our right to bear arms.” Have you gotten a chance to speak with Congress Member Giffords since the attack?

COLIN GODDARD: I have not gotten a chance to speak with her, no. I have spoken with the family members of Gabe Zimmerman, her staffer who was killed, and as well as intern Daniel Hernández. I got to meet him when I was in Tucson earlier last year. And I think the kind of message I would say is that, you know, you can be pro-Second Amendment and still pro-safety and pro-responsibility when it comes to doing background checks. A lot—you know, a lot of NRA members and gun owners themselves think that we should be doing background checks on everybody. And the well-known Republican pollster Frank Luntz did a poll at the NRA convention last year and found out that over 65 percent of NRA members themselves support doing background checks on everybody. But unfortunately, there is a disconnect between the NRA membership and its leadership, its bosses in here in D.C., that have an ultimate, absolute, extremist approach that doesn’t allow for reasonable discourse to happen.

AMY GOODMAN: Colin Goddard, I want to thank you very much for being with us, a survivor of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, works with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

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