As part of the National Gun Violence Survivors Week, which ended on January 26, 2024, three women survivors of gun violence shared their experiences and their views on how to prevent this epidemic in America. They spoke with The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom that reports on gender, politics and policy.
A Mother’s Loss and a Pastor’s Mission
Melody McFadden, 57, lost her mother and her niece to gun violence. Her mother was killed by her abusive boyfriend, who was a felon and had obtained an illegal firearm. Her niece was killed by a stray bullet while watching a parade on a beach, also from an illegal weapon. McFadden is a U.S. Army veteran, ordained pastor and gun owner. She is a senior fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network and a member of the Everytown Veterans Advisory Committee. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.
McFadden said that she did not understand the dynamics of domestic violence until after her mother’s death. She learned that her mother’s abuser had threatened her every day, isolated her, hid her money and papers, and put a loaded gun on the table as a sign of intimidation. She said that she wished she had known the warning signs and the resources available to help her mother.
She also said that she was shocked by the ease with which her mother’s killer and her niece’s killer had access to illegal guns. She said that she supports common-sense gun laws that would prevent felons, domestic abusers and other dangerous people from getting firearms. She said that she does not want to take away anyone’s right to own a gun, but rather to make sure that gun owners are responsible and accountable.
McFadden said that she has turned her pain into a purpose, and that she uses her voice and her faith to advocate for gun violence prevention. She said that she wants to honor the memory of her mother and her niece, and to help other survivors heal and find hope.
A Teacher’s Trauma and a Student’s Inspiration
Karly Scholz, 29, was a teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, when a gunman opened fire on February 14, 2018, killing 17 people and injuring 17 others. Scholz was in her classroom with her students when the shooting started. She barricaded the door, turned off the lights, and told her students to stay quiet and calm. She said that she felt helpless and terrified, and that she did not know if they would survive.
Scholz said that the shooting changed her life forever. She said that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. She said that she has difficulty sleeping, concentrating and socializing. She said that she has received therapy and medication, but that she still struggles with the trauma.
She also said that the shooting motivated her to become more involved in the gun violence prevention movement. She said that she was inspired by her students, who organized the March for Our Lives and advocated for safer gun laws. She said that she joined Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization that works to end gun violence. She said that she has met other survivors and activists, and that she has learned a lot about the issue.
Scholz said that she hopes that her story will raise awareness and inspire action. She said that she wants to prevent other teachers and students from experiencing what she and her school went through. She said that she believes that gun violence can be reduced and prevented with sensible policies and practices.
A Survivor’s Recovery and a Leader’s Vision
Marisa Marano, 34, was shot in the chest by a stranger while walking home from work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on December 17, 2013. She said that she did not know the shooter or the motive, and that it was a random act of violence. She said that she was lucky to survive, but that she had to undergo multiple surgeries and a long recovery process. She said that she still has a bullet lodged in her chest, and that she suffers from chronic pain and nerve damage.
Marano said that the shooting made her realize how prevalent and pervasive gun violence is in America. She said that she learned that every day, 120 Americans are killed by guns, and 200 more are injured. She said that she also learned that gun violence disproportionately affects communities of color, low-income communities, and urban areas. She said that she decided to use her voice and her experience to advocate for change.
Marano said that she became a volunteer leader with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a national organization that works to end gun deaths and injuries. She said that she has lobbied for stronger gun laws at the local, state and federal levels. She said that she has also supported programs that address the root causes of gun violence, such as poverty, inequality and trauma. She said that she has mentored other survivors and helped them find their voice.
Marano said that she has a vision of a safer and more peaceful America, where people do not have to live in fear of gun violence. She said that she believes that this vision is possible, and that it requires collective action and responsibility. She said that she wants to make one thing clear: “We don’t have to live like this.”