Colin Goddard was sitting in French class on the campus of Virginia Tech on the morning of April 16, 2007, when his life was changed forever.
In the deadliest mass shooting in United States history, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho fatally shot 32 students and faculty before killing himself. He also wounded 17 people, including Goddard, who survived four bullet wounds.
“I was like most people who thought as long as I associate with good people and don’t do bad things, I’m not going to be shot — ever. In my French class, in my nice university, I was nearly killed,” Goddard said at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda on Saturday night following a screening of the documentary film Living for 32.
An official selection at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the movie looks at how Goddard took a tragic event and turned it into something positive: He became a gun violence prevention activist, working to enact what he says are common-sense gun safety laws, such as universal background checks.
“As long as we continue to allow the gun policy to exist as it is, these things will happen,” he told the audience at Adat Shalom.
The Adat Shalom social committee organized the screening and discussion that was sponsored by the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan organization started after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that has grown to around 3 million members. A spokesperson at the event said the group “promotes sensible gun violence solutions,” including closing loopholes in the background check system and promoting gun safety for children in their homes through the Be SMART education program.
Goddard, who works as a senior policy advocate for Everytown for Gun Safety, said despite setbacks, progress is being made to reduce the roughly 88 Americans who die by a bullet every day, whether by homicide or suicide.
He said that since the Sandy Hook shooting, six states have enacted laws to require background checks on every gun sale. Most recently, Oregon became the 18th state to require universal background checks.
Also, despite the Manchin-Toomey background checks proposal going down to defeat in the Senate, the 55 votes for the bill were more than the number received the first time the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act came up for a vote, he said.
It took seven years and multiple floor votes for the Brady Bill to become law, “so we started strong,” said Goddard.
Since passage of the Brady Bill in 1993, more than 2.3 million firearm transactions have been blocked, according to Goddard. The measure mandates federal background checks on firearm purchasers.
“We have a system that works. But it needs improvement, and it needs to be made standard across the board,” said Goddard. “We’re beginning to dismantle this idea that if you support good gun policy, particularly as a legislator, you’re going to lose. We are beginning to break that down and have people think differently about this. It’s not going to be something that changes overnight. These things take multiple years. They take major election cycles.”