America's Gun Violence Epidemic: Readers Share Their Stories

First-person accounts and opinions about one of our most divisive political issues

school shooting
Karl Gehring/The Denver Post
High school students gathered for a candlelight vigil after a school shooting.
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As part of Rolling Stone's recent series on America's gun violence epidemic, we asked readers to share their experiences with guns and gun violence. Here are some of the most passionate responses.

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Learning to Listen
"Some of us have never been physically harmed by a gun, yet will feel the repercussions of gun violence for the rest of our lives. My former classmate Adam Lanza broke into Sandy Hook Elementary School, shot and killed 20 children, six educators, his mother and himself. I was not in that school on that day, but the repercussions of his actions have scarred myself, my family and my town. The human spirit is stronger than bullets, which is why survivors speak. I am blessed to be able to speak for those who aren't with us today as a result of gun violence. There are plenty of other people out there like us. The point is, we must learn to listen." — Chelsea S.

Chelsea S.
Chelsea S. (Photo: Ifeyinwa Arinze)

Wounds That Won't Heal
"I was six years old in August of 1999 when I was faced with a Neo-Nazi wielding an Uzi-like sub-machine gun. I was attending the North Valley Jewish Community Center day camp. I was there five days a week and had the time of my life. On that morning, I was on my way back from a game of capture the flag when I faced what I thought was a construction worker. He was holding what I thought was an electric drill. The next thing I knew, I was getting up from the floor. I did not realize it at the time but this stranger had unleashed a barrage of bullets, two of which hit me. Overcome with adrenaline, I ran as fast as I could. Once I left the building, my camp counselor realized that I was injured. Despite my desire to keep running, she told me to lay down, so I did. At that point a man came by, picked me up and we ran to safety. He took me into a little red schoolhouse where all of the preschoolers and kindergarteners were. I lay on the floor wrapped in blankets. As I was waiting for paramedics, my adrenaline began to wear off and I can remember the overwhelming terror of knowing that this was far from over. I screamed out for someone to call 911. After what seemed like hours, I was put onto a gurney and taken to an ambulance. Then I was transferred to a helicopter so I could be airlifted to Children's Hospital Los Angeles. From that point I started my long journey towards recovery. It has been almost 15 years and although I am better, I will never fully recover from the day that I was shot." — Joshua S.

Joshua Stepakoff
Joshua S. (Photo: Kathy Shorr)

A Positive Side to Firearms?
"As a young child growing up in Rolla, Missouri, life was relaxed and everything you would expect out of a Leave it to Beaver-type town. That is until my dad had to lay off a problem employee at his major logistics company. The employee had a history of violence and was a convicted felon. Once laid-off, the employee started making death threats towards our family. The situation was serious enough that I had to be escorted to and from school by two SWAT team members, every day, for an entire year. We were not allowed to live our lives as normal people. The threat of being stabbed to death by a crazed man was always in the back of our minds. We weren't living, we were just surviving and we felt like cattle, ready and waiting for slaughter. All of this changed when an uncle, who was a veteran law enforcement officer, loaned my father a Glock 21 and a Walther PPK. My father took our family to the range, and even though I was young I was forced to shoot. I emptied magazine after magazine. With each bullet that left the end of the barrel and struck its intended target, we were freed. We were no longer slaves to the ill will of a convicted felon. We still had to check over our shoulders periodically, but we did it knowing that we could handle whatever we saw. Rolling Stone's assault on the firearms rights of U.S. citizens is irresponsible and will allow criminals to act as tyrants to the lives and minds of law-abiding citizens. If your publication was successful in its campaign against the U.S. Constitution, then you would most likely be killing ten times the amount of people than you could have ever expected to save. I realize that everyone makes mistakes and it is how we recover from those mistakes that show who we really are. You can still fix your misguided step into world of anti-gun literature, but you will need to start publishing the other side of the story. You will be overwhelmed by the mass quantity of good peoples' lives that are saved by firearms every year. Thank you for your time and consideration." — Mike M. 

A Phantom Problem
"There's no such thing as 'gun violence.' That is a made-up term by those who wish to abolish our Second Amendment rights. A gun is a tool, nothing more. I almost lost a grandson a year ago to a backyard pool drowning. He survived, but many more kids die every year from drowning than from 'gun violence.' I know you won't print my story because it doesn't fit your narrative." — Glenn F.

Warning Signs
"A very close family friend, someone I had known most of my life was murdered by her ex-husband and their three children on Thanksgiving 2007. [The friend] had gotten many restraining orders against her husband and they were divorced. She pleaded with the courts to remove a hunting rifle from his possession but they were all denied — despite her testimony that he had threatened to kill her with it many times. In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving 2007, her ex-husband began to be more understanding and cooperative. Relieved that things might be finally normalizing, she relaxed her guard on the holiday and agreed to meet him in a park to exchange their children; this would be the first time she had done a custody exchange in a non-public location in more than a year. He was late but when he came he approached the car and shot her in the leg, then in the head. The oldest child was gunned down and brought back to the car. The two youngest children were shot multiple times and killed. Then the killer walked into the nearby woods and shot himself. Police found them all, dead by the rifle the judge refused to believe he would kill her with. Her courageous sister has tirelessly worked with legislative bodies to implement better gun laws that protect individuals from abusers who own guns." — Cole Shacochis E.

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