Jewish Journal

Shot and Scarred at 6 Years Old

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Joshua Stepakoff, gun violence survivor

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” — Hillel

I learned Hillel’s lesson the hardest way: After I was shot twice during a mass shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999, I expected my elected leaders to “be for me” and pass sensible gun control laws. They did not.

I was 6 years old when I survived a mass shooting, along with three other children — ages 5, 6, 16 — and one adult. While attending summer camp, a white supremacist set foot on campus with an Uzi-like submachine gun and a Glock semi-automatic pistol and began spraying bullets. I was shot in my left shin and a second bullet lodged in my hip, narrowly missing my spine. Since then, I have been in and out of therapy, coping with the pernicious effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, which plagues me to this day, every day.

It has been 18 years since I was shot — I’m 25 now — but I still do not feel my country’s elected officials have done anything “for me.” I hoped they might do something for the children of Sandy Hook, Conn., or for the families of those killed in Las Vegas, Aurora, Colo., and now Parkland, Fla. But they continue to disappoint me as well as a growing community of victims and survivors.

The problem of gun violence is not a mental health issue; it is not a school security issue; it is not an issue of protecting your home. It is an issue of too many guns, too easily accessible. Every country in the world copes with mental illness and personal protection rights yet they do not have anywhere near the same number of mass shootings that we do.

Make no mistake: I do not want to abolish our Second Amendment rights, but we are doing our nation a disservice by prioritizing gun manufacturers over precious children’s lives. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed in 2005, which grants the gun industry immunity from nearly all lawsuits. This is a miscarriage of justice, preventing victims of gun violence from filing civil lawsuits against irresponsible manufacturers and sellers.

There is an epidemic of gun violence in America. If you are not willing to admit that, then you are part of the problem.

It is time to put partisanship aside and recognize that innocent people are being slaughtered by weapons of war on a daily basis.

It is not enough to talk about gun violence. Our politicians need to commit to common sense gun violence prevention measures such as universal background checks on all gun sales, repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and reinstating an assault weapons ban.

Until then, Hillel’s question remains: When will our elected officials be for you?  When will they be for me? And if not now, when?