Readers view on Measure 114
The first day of school should be memorable -- but never in the way it was when my niece, Sarah, started kindergarten in Scotts Mills, Oregon.
The small town of Scotts Mills was meant to be a safe haven. Sarah's mother, Laura, had moved her daughters to live with her own mother, fleeing a marriage that was dangerous for Laura and her children. She secured a restraining order to protect herself and her daughters. But just before the first day of school, Dave purchased a gun. Not long after five-year-old Sarah came home full of joy and excitement, Dave arrived. He murdered Laura, Sarah, three-year-old Rachel, and five-month-old April on the front lawn. My mother-in-law watched her daughter and granddaughters die violent, preventable deaths. One of my most visceral memories of that night was washing my niece's blood from her grandmother's hair.
Our family was not alone in this horror. The sweet house at the end of the town's main street became a bloody crime scene, witnessed by Sarah's schoolmates, teachers, neighbors, church members and every other passerby for weeks to come.
As a psychologist, I can tell you that no one is immune from the capital "T" trauma that comes with gun violence. The flashbacks, heightened anxiety, fear of being out in the world or in places associated with the violence and the overall shock live within the bodies and minds of everyone who witnesses a shooting, knows the shooter or loves the person who is shot. My mother-in-law carried that trauma every day of every year for the rest of her life. Each autumn, when backpacks appear as part of back-to-school season, I remember the backpack-filling party I had hosted for Sarah the night before she died, and I feel the wrenching pain of how quickly our pride and delight turned to horrific loss. I wonder about the many ways the memories of this violence may haunt the other children and families of Scotts Mills.
I share our experience because Oregonians now have a chance to prevent more deaths, more injuries and more trauma for other children and families. Under Measure 114, someone like Dave could not purchase a gun in a moment of rage and destroy lives the very next day. We know from years of data that other states that now require handgun permits and that have closed loopholes in background checks have reduced gun homicides and gun suicides. Hundreds of women, every month, try to create safe lives for their children, but can't because of abusers' easy access to firearms. And it is not just those who are killed, and those who love them, that suffer. No one, including Dave, benefited from his ability to purchase a gun when angry and reactive.
That is the lesson I learned during the grand jury testimony and courtroom trial that followed Laura, Sarah, Rachel and April's murders. Keeping someone like Dave -- whether they intend to harm themselves or others -- from impulsively purchasing and using a gun is the most responsible thing we can do, for the would-be shooter, for their intended victims and for all Oregonians. Please join me in passing Measure 114.
About the writer: Doreen Dodgen-Magee is a psychologist, author and auntie living in Oregon.
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