In the summer of 1978, my seven-year old brother Christopher was shot in the head by a teenaged neighbor, playing with his father’s gun. Christopher was a first grader, a skinny little tow-headed boy missing his front teeth. I held him, bleeding in my arms, as my mother drove maniacally to the ER. His eyes fluttered, rolling back in his head as he lost consciousness. His little body twitched violently from the brain damage. I begged him to hold on. My arms were covered in blood. I was fourteen years old.
My brother survived. With multiple brain surgeries and a year of physical therapy, he learned how to use a fork and walk without dragging his leg, and talk normally again. He learned to write with his left hand, as he lost all fine motor skills on his right side. He had to attend school wearing a helmet. He became an outsider. His young body was able to heal much of the brain damage, but the emotional damage continues to take its toll. He has struggled with drug addiction all his life. Like many with traumatic brain injury, he has been prone to violent outbursts. He has been in and out of jail. Though he lived, a part of him died that day. The part that was pure and childlike and trusting. He still has a piece of the bullet in his brain.
My entire family, including my own children, has been affected by what happened to him at seven years old. Generations of our family were shattered by a single bullet. It is a nightmare that refuses to die.
Watching the news on that awful Friday morning, December 14, 2012, brought my nightmare into full focus.
The families of the slain at Sandy Hook are enduring unimaginable horror and grief that will affect them for the rest of their lives. The school, the children, the neighbors, the entire community is forever scarred. Future generations will feel the repercussions. Those who survived will bear emotional wounds that may never heal.
And yet, online and through the media, people clamor for their rights to assault weapons citing freedom and the second amendment.  They want their rights to military-style killing machines unimpeded, unregulated.
Unless you have held a bleeding child riddled with bullets in your arms, you don’t know. You do not know.
Let’s talk about rights.
I haven’t felt safe in the world since the day my brother was shot. I’ve had anxiety disorder and panic attacks (which rendered me “uninsurable” – yet another issue) all my life. I grew up to be a loving, but hovering, overprotective, paranoid mother. My three children have never played outside unattended. I rarely sleep through the night. A maniac with a gun took normalcy from me. Where are my rights?
I, like most of you, am afraid to send my child to school or to a mall or to the movies or to see a congresswoman in front of a Safeway store. Where are our rights?
Where were the rights of the children, the teachers, the principals who died? Didn’t they have the right to attend school peacefully and without fear? Where are the rights of those parents to see their children grow and thrive, to walk their daughters down the aisle, to hold grandchildren in their arms one day? Where were their rights?
Since when does the second amendment get to trample over the rights of the rest of us-  our right to Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Our right to feel safe in the world?
The NRA has had our politicians in their pockets for far too long. They have towered over us, the bully on the schoolyard that no one will stand up to. I have never been able to abide bullies. As a mother, I will not rest until assault weapons are banned in this country. As a citizen, I won’t stand by and watch the NRA take my freedom away with their lobbying and their money and their weapons.
I have been rocked to my core by this horrific tragedy, and I can not go back to life as normal. If any of you know how hard I’ve fought for my dog, then you know my tenacity. I will put all my heart behind this. I will not quit.
If we offer words of consolation but do nothing to change this epidemic of gun violence, we are no better than the gunman.
Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel said, “We suffered not only from the cruelty of killers, but also from the indifference of bystanders. I believe that a person who is indifferent to the suffering of others is complicit in the crime. And that I cannot allow, at least not for myself.”
I’m with him.
For more information on gun violence and what you can do, see Women Against Gun Violence

(I serve on the Board of Directors for Women Against Gun Violence)

NOTE- all comments are moderated and pending approval. Those of you gun advocates who have been posting and calling me a “liberal douchebag”- your comments will not be read nor posted. My focus is not on you, it is on the safety of children.

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43 Comments

  1. kristine van raden

    Hollye…I had no idea, and I am so very sorry. This piece is brilliant, authentic and passionate. I stand with YOU. I refuse to be complacent. Your words will help move more people into action. Bravo, you…you have used your own pain for the betterment of our planet. You make such a difference. I love you. I do!

    Reply
  2. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you Steve. As an author who writes for and educates children, I know you, too must be rocked to your core.

    Reply
  3. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you for standing with me my sister. I love you.

    Reply
  4. Lisa

    Brilliantly said. I feel for your pain and am so sorry for your loss. I understand all to well how a horrifying event as a child can have an effect on many generations. Thank you for fighting for all of our rights.

    Reply
  5. June Curtis

    Hollye,
    I too had no idea that your family endured such a horrible tragedy. And I feel exactly the same as you.
    There is no reason why any civilian should own an assault rifle. Im not sure if you have heard but Dicks Sporting Goods have pulled all of the assault rifles from their shelves today. Its nice to know that at least one company is doing the right thing.
    Hang in there Hollye. I will be praying for you during this time.

    Reply
  6. Hollye Dexter

    It's so nice to hear from you, beautiful June. I didn't know about Dick's Sporting Goods, but it gives me hope. Thank you for sharing that.
    Pray for those babies and their parents. My God- those parents. I can not get them out of my mind.

    Reply
  7. Hollye Dexter

    Lisa, I'm sorry to hear that you can relate. But for those of us who have been there, and who "get" it…we have to be the voices. WE have to speak up.

    Reply
  8. Sarah Stonich

    Oh, Hollye. Well said, when words fail those of us untouched by violence, it is voices and stories like yours that need to be heard, and so important to tell.
    I do think and hope that the many of us speechless in the face of the tragedy are connecting and rallying to find a very strong collective voice that will be used to battle gun violence, to and advocate for stricter laws, and to assure that the NRA is removed from its position of power.
    You will not be alone in your fight.

    Reply
  9. WENDEE

    I agree… I don't understand why any citizen needs to have assault weapons… or any guns.. but thats my 2 cents… I know you will fight the good fight, and I'm there with you. I work with children in schools almost every day and this just hits too close to home… as usual your writing and way of expressing things is very heart felt and timely.

    Reply
  10. Lori

    Hollye–this ripped me apart. I have no words for you except I have never felt safe in the world either and it is a terrible feeling. It is time for a HUGE change. The right to bear arms is defunct, damaging and has no place in our current society. The right to LIVE and be safe should be the ONLY consideration.
    Loving you–

    Reply
  11. Amy Wise

    We lost my niece, to a single bullet, fired into a crowd and subsequently into her head, just 3 short years ago. People WITH guns KILL. Why is this so complicated to understand? There is no need, no reason, no argument, for anyone at ANY time to own assault weapons. Ever. The debate has to be over. We MUST HAVE change. Thank you for sharing Hollye. <3

    Reply
  12. kdivasilver

    Hollye, I love how you have framed this–the way it should be. We have allowed our "leaders" to cater to the voices of a few at the jeopardy of, as you said, our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I read your story and its aftermath with intense sadness in my heart. I send you love and caring and hope that somehow it helps.

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    I totally agree. Please let us all know what we can do. I've sent emails to all the elected officials but what next? We need someone to give direction.

    Reply
  14. Debbie

    Hollye … I am stunned. Your life has been so filled with tragedy yet you are such a happy person … you exude joy. You amaze me. Really. I already signed the gun petition. I am absolutely with you. I do not know why anyone needs a machine gun to hunt a deer????? The laws have to change in this country – we are much too violent. A new consciousness must take place in order to change thought so that people can begin practicing peace. Love you so much – beautiful post.

    Reply
  15. Hollye Dexter

    Sarah,
    Your words are such a comfort. To know we are all standing together in this, especially people like you with a big voice in the world, it makes me feel hope.

    Reply
  16. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you Wendee- You are such a bright light to children. I know you are deeply affected by this.
    much love…

    Reply
  17. Hollye Dexter

    Debbie,
    Yes, a new consciousness. We've had our heads in the sand for far too long. Maybe this is the tipping point. Good God let's hope so.

    Love you, too.

    Reply
  18. Hollye Dexter

    It is sadness, a dull ache I've gotten used to. But I can not ever get used to what happened last Friday.

    Thank you for the love and yes, it does help. Let's send all our love to CT. They need it the most.

    Much love.

    Reply
  19. Hollye Dexter

    Oh Amy- I am so sorry. That breaks my heart. Again- another parallel for us- a very sad parallel.

    Change is coming. Let's support Senator Feinstein. We can do this.

    Love to you…

    Reply
  20. Hollye Dexter

    Let's make that one of the goals in our lives, that others who follow can feel safe in the world.

    Imagine…

    Love you, too.

    Reply
  21. Sylvia Lavietes

    Your story resonates deeply. It should be read by more than those who are so thoroughly 'with' you. How about offering it as an op-ed piece?
    I can only imagine how you feel. What a horror that there are so many instances which rub salt in your wound.

    Reply
  22. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you Sylvia, I will- have pitched it to the Huffington Post blog. If you have any ideas of where I should submit let me know. I hope my story helps to open some eyes.

    Reply
  23. kario

    I was, once again, sickened to know that one person could do so much damage in so short a time. I agree that it is way past time for us to act. Yes, the NRA has boatloads of money, but they do not influence elections as much as people think. Until we all stand together to decry the culture of violence and entitlement, things will not change. Fortunately, I feel as though we as a nation are beginning to understand the power of compassionate, hopeful, rational individuals coming together and I hope this groundswell becomes a tsunami. Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself. It is so important for us to do this with each other. Love and light.

    Reply
  24. Darlene

    I am so sorry for your loss Hollye. Violence leaves such a tragic legacy. I was watching Katie Couric interview surviving family members and I could see how the siblings were already irrevocably damaged. We absolutely must do everything we can do to keep this from happening again, no matter what the scale.

    Reply
  25. fullsoulahead.com

    I am so sorry about what happened to your brother and I admire your tenacity. I'm there with you in support of regulations on gun ownership. Enough. We've had enough.

    Reply
  26. Judy N

    What a powerful column, Hollye. And once again, I am amazed at how you make something powerful from loss. I've been signing petitions against assault rifles right and left and I do believe that grassroots efforts like this can really count. We need a movement for gun control because otherwise it won't happen.

    Reply
  27. Maya North

    Oh, love… As I read your words, I could feel a tiny child bleeding in my own young arms, I could feel my own heart stutter in horror and terror and grief–such is the power of what you wrote. And as I realized that this horror truly never ended–not for any of you–my eyes filled with tears and my heart with sorrow–and rage. Nana Bear is looking around growling–she is really protective, but she–and I–are helpless. All I can do is say that yes, I am with you. This culture needs to change and we need to make a great deal of noise until the NRA has been taken down from its current state of power. They may have obscene amounts of money, but we have *numbers* and we are *loud.*

    Let me know what I can do–I'm mostly about writing, but that I can do.

    In the meantime, big, tender hugs…

    Reply
  28. Donald K. Sanders

    Hollye,
    As bad as my life experiences have been I cannot imagine how horrible this was for you. Even with so many of your thoughts similar to my own I find my heart reaching for yours but I'm afraid the void between us is to large so I can only reach you through these few words. If I could I would take your sorrows and tuck them away with my own somewhere where they would never see the color of your eyes. Love is so hard some times, very hard. I wish to thank you for your frankness in sharing your life with us, I know it too was not easy for you. Were I a praying man I would certainly say something, I don't know what, but I would like to think I could do that. I'm at a loss to what else to say so I'll simply fade back in to the furniture.
    Donald

    Reply
  29. heather thibodeau

    I HATE that this happened to you, your brother and your family. But I LOVE the power and passion behind your words. We cannot stand for one more child, one more family to suffer like this. We have to act, and though we may not be able to save all, just one will be enough to make the fight worthwhile. THANK YOU for letting us into your life and story. It has made a difference to me. Much Love.

    Reply
  30. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you Heather. That means so much to me.

    Reply
  31. Hollye Dexter

    Thank you Kario- and love and light to you as well.

    Reply
  32. Hollye Dexter

    Unfortunately, you don't hear about the ones who survive. They are the ones that suffer the most.

    Reply
  33. Hollye Dexter

    Donald- I know that you as a war veteran, understand the backlash of violence and the toll it takes on the survivors and witnesses. Thank you for your compassion. Let's hope that we as writers are doing our small part toward healing.

    Reply
  34. Hollye Dexter

    Yes, we have numbers and we are loud and we need to stay loud, and get even louder. Just keep raising your voice, Maya. And maybe join One Million Moms For Gun Control, and help them spread the word on your social media.

    Reply
  35. Unknown

    I'm with you Hollye. Since I became a mother 13 years ago, I have found myself wondering about the impact of a single act of war on the children who witness it, on both sides, and am unfortunately confident the repercussions span generations. I'm sorry for your experience, and wish you and your family well.

    Reply
  36. Hamza Balol

    Hello Ms. Hollye Dexter,

    I am not sure whether or not you are the one who wrote the wonderful story "Chutes and Ladders," from 'The Power of Positive' book of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. The story, however, touched my heart and soothed my soul in a very positive way.

    Best regards,
    Hamza Balol
    Saudi Arabia

    Reply
  37. Hollye Dexter

    join us at MomsDemandAction.org
    Help us spread the word, and educate the masses.

    Reply
  38. Hollye Dexter

    I am, Hamza. And thank you for connecting with me here! I'm so glad to have brought a moment of comfort to you.
    Blessings to you and all our friends in Saudi Arabia.

    Reply
  39. Hollye Dexter

    And I wish you well, and I wish our country well.
    Blessings…

    Reply
  40. Hamza Balol

    Of course, I posted my query back in January and at the same time I contacted you via email. But for one reason or another, it was just delayed waiting to be approved by the moderator. Thank you so much for your feedback. At least, your friends should know what people around the world say about you and your beautiful writing style.

    Blessings to you and Evan,
    Hamza

    Reply

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