Living In The Shadows Of Gun Violence: An All-Too-Common Reality In America

by Kathy Soppet
Originally Published: 
A father posing for a photo with his two sons and two daughters
Kathy Soppet

On a cold night in February 1983, my life changed forever.

While I was watching Krystle and Alexis duke it out on Dynasty, I heard a knock on the door.

We weren’t expecting anyone, so I felt a sensation of fear. That sensation grew as I saw my father’s face in the door window, surrounded by the dark shadow of night.

My parents were going through a nasty divorce at the time, and my father was mentally ill, angry, lonely, and had nothing to lose.

I was happy when he moved out. I was happy when his gun went with him. His gun was issued to him by the New York City Police Department. It went with him everywhere. It threatened me. It tormented me. And now on this dreadful night, I knew that it could be the last thing I saw.

I opened the door due to some kind of foolish daughterly duty, and he placed the gun upon my temple. There were no hugs and kisses. He simply said, “Do you want to die first?”

These words have echoed in my head for decades. These words will forever haunt my dreams. Upon hearing them, I panicked. My reaction was to run out of the room and try to hide. I heard my father drunkenly shouting at everyone, including my aunt, sisters, and mother.

I did not know what to do. I was 13 years old and didn’t have any answers. So I ran. And I haven’t stopped running since.

I ran barefoot through the snow to my neighbor’s house. My shadow appeared in the moonlight upon the snow. “Do you want any socks?” they said as they stared at my bare, wet feet.

I mumbled something to them like, “My dad’s there. He has his gun.”

My neighbor was also a cop, so he walked to our house with his gun. His wife called the cops — the good guys. Why wasn’t my dad one of those good guys?, I thought to myself.

Though I did not hear any gunshots, I had no idea whether my family was alive or dead. I was frozen and out of touch with reality. I felt ashamed of myself for running and abandoning them. I still do.

My family and I were lucky enough to survive, but the shadows of gun violence will always remain. They are a dark presence in my life, and even though my father passed away almost 10 years ago, his words still haunt me.

Being a gun-violence survivor in any capacity affects you for the rest of your life. It may cause fear, anxiety, shame, and post-traumatic stress disorder. It casts a shadow upon many of the things you do. And though counseling and/or time may help, you are never truly free. You are its prisoner, and the constant reminders of the gun violence plaguing our nation continually tighten its grasp.

You are the child at Sandy Hook.

You are the movie patron in Aurora.

You are a member of the Bible group in Charleston.

You are the college student in Roseburg.

You are at the holiday party in San Bernardino.

You are a member of a growing number of gun violence survivors.

You are a part of the human race.

You know all too well that a gun is not love.

A gun is taking away many of those we love.

It is an instrument of death, especially in the wrong hands.

It must not be held up above humanity.

It must be regulated to protect humanity.

It does not love.

It does not breathe.

It is my foe.

My dad used to call me foe, as a joke from “Fee-fi-fo-fum.”

“Do you want to die first?”

No Daddy, I want to live.

For more information on how you can take action against violence, visit Moms Demand Action.

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