Before voting on gun bill, listen to the survivors


Over the past three months I have attended every committee hearing on House Bill 562, legislation in our General Assembly that would repeal North Carolina’s strong background checks on handgun sales, among other provisions that would undermine public safety.

And I am disappointed that amid the fast-and-furious lobbying over this measure, critical voices have gone unheard: The voices of victims and survivors of gun violence.

I am one of the countless North Carolinians whose lives have been touched by gun violence. And, before lawmakers repeal this important law, I ask them to hear my voice.

On November 1, 1991, when my children were 10 and 4, I was an adult student at the University of Iowa. The three of us were on campus for a dance rehearsal that day when shots rang out in Van Allen Hall.

A graduate student who was enraged after being passed over for a dissertation award had entered a conference room in Van Allen Hall a few yards from us. He pulled out a gun and shot the professors he believed had wronged him, along with a fellow student who had earned the award.

The student then walked down the hall past the room where we cowered on the floor, went up the stairs and shot the chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department. He walked to another building and shot a vice chancellor. By the time the student killed himself a few minutes later, nearly half the faculty of the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Iowa had been killed, and my friend, Miya Rodolfo-Sioson, a student who was working as a receptionist in the vice chancellor’s office that day, was also shot. The bullet lodged in her spine and she remained a quadriplegic until her death in 2008.

This deeply personal experience with gun violence is why I feel so passionately that North Carolina must preserve its long-standing, effective background checks program. It is why I have been following this legislation so closely.

Although I now live hundreds of miles away in Cary, North Carolina, every time there is another mass shooting, I am transported immediately back to Van Allen Hall. I remember the man with a gun who stalked the hallways hunting people while I held my children's faces to the carpet and hoped we could keep quiet enough for him to keep walking past our room.

Every time there is a shooting, I can smell that carpet and then the scent of blood. I remember the sounds of his gun and the screams. I remember my children’s terror, shock and trauma. I remember holding my friends while they grieved for their murdered spouses. I remember the endless months when Miya pleaded with us, her friends, to please let her die.

On November 1, 1991, along with many friends and community members, my daughters and I saw firsthand the gruesome tragedy of gun violence in our country. Gun-violence survivors are now an identifiable demographic, with literally tens of thousands added to our ranks every year. In fact, every day 88 Americans are killed by gun violence, and hundreds more injured.

But we are more than a statistic. We are Americans. We are North Carolinians. We are voters. And we are as much a part of the debate over H562 as the people who wrote and sponsor this bill. I am asking lawmakers to hear my voice and know that the tragedy of gun violence has a human face.

Background checks are the single most important step to reducing gun violence. For decades, our state has required handgun buyers to obtain a permit, thus significantly reducing the number of guns in the hands of people who would do harm -- criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill. Why in the world would we want to repeal that act of prevention?

We know that repealing background checks has deadly consequences. After Missouri repealed its background checks law in 2007, there was a 25 percent spike in the state’s homicide rate, which is now the fifth highest in the country. That is not what we want for North Carolina, which is why 87 percent of likely voters in our state support background checks on all gun sales.

Before lawmakers vote on HB562 this week, I hope they will listen to my story and the stories of other survivors. Please preserve our state’s common sense, effective laws that require a background check for all handgun purchases. It’s a sensible solution that can save lives.

Kim Yaman is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She is an Everytown for Gun Safety Survivor Fellow.