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Virginia Tech survivor discusses need for background checks


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By Carley Lanich



Colin Goddard, gun violence prevention advocate, shared his story of recovery and advocacy after being shot four times in the April 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, noting that background checks on gun sales and gun violence are not mutually exclusive..

Goddard, now a senior policy advocate for Everytown for Gun Safety, spoke to a full audience of IU students and Bloomington community members Sunday afternoon at the 
Buskirk-Chumley Theater.

The event, organized by the IU Civic Leaders Living-Learning Center and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, began with a screening of a 40-minute documentary, “Living for 32,” detailing Goddard’s experiences at Virginia Tech and his advocacy for background checks among gun buyers.

Goddard frequently shares his story in talks across the country to lobby for increased background checks and greater gun violence prevention and asks concerned citizens to vote in local elections.

“It’s time that we, the people, truly decide what the public policy around guns should be and stop letting the industry write our laws,” Goddard said.

He said the documentary has helped make talking about his experiences much easier. Goddard was one of seven survivors of 17 total students in his intermediate French class the morning of the shooting.

“The benefit of making a film like ‘Living for 32’ is that I have told the story in as much detail as I could on camera,” Goddard said. “So I could come to Bloomington and not have to physically relive and retell that story again before getting into a discussion.”

The documentary outlined factors contributing to the Virginia Tech shooting, including the file transfer that was not made regarding shooter Seung-Hui Cho’s mental health. It also showed Goddard and a friend’s success in purchasing firearms at gun shows in Ohio and Texas without identification.

Paul Helmke of the Civic Leaders LLC joined Goddard for the discussion after the documentary. Helmke, also featured in the 
documentary, previously served as president of the Brady Campaign, where Goddard first worked as a gun violence prevention advocate.

“I think when we have discussions like this, it’s important to hear from somebody that actually went through a school shooting,” Helmke said. “He takes this tragedy and he turns it into a life of activism. A tragedy happened, he did his research and now he’s speaking out.”

During the discussion, Goddard and Helmke discussed how Indiana’s state gun laws do not require any additional restrictions to gun purchases than what is required by federal law.

“Yes, there are rights to own a gun in this country,” Helmke said. “But there are responsibilities to go with that gun and risks to go with that gun. One of the things we’re trying to point out is those responsibilities and those risks.”

Goddard and Helmke took questions from the audience written anonymously on notecards. One detailed a personal connection to Virginia Tech, having been on campus the day of the shooting and losing a friend in Goddard’s class.

“He was such a unique and warm and open person, and he is gone,” moderator Stephanie Mannon Grabow read off the notecard. “When we say these numbers, 32, 82, over 100, et cetera, I think we lose sight that each number is a rich life, a light, a person connected to a network of friends and family. Colin, when you share your story, you help remind people that you are more than a 
number. Thank you.”

Goddard used the opportunity to encourage any survivors, including anyone who knows someone who has been a victim of gun violence, to reach out to the Everytown Survivor Network at http://everytown.org/survivors/.

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