2,405 Shot Dead since Tucson

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Romano and Pat Wingert

Since the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona, the number of Americans killed by guns has not let up. How a court ruling and Dick Cheney have given Obama a chance he should take.

On a snowy Wednesday evening in February, the main attraction on the marquee at the Lyric Theatre in Blacksburg, Va., was True Grit, the Coen Brothers' bloody homage to the shoot-'em-up Westerns of Hollywood's Golden Age. But the movie playing inside had a very different message to send.

Four years ago, on April 16, 2007, Colin Goddard was one of 49 people shot by Seung-Hui Cho in Virginia Tech's Norris Hall, a mere 1,000 yards from the Lyric Theatre--and one of only 17 who survived. Shortly after 9 a.m., Cho forced his way into Goddard's French class, firing on the teacher and then methodically stalking the aisles, pumping an estimated 200 bullets from his Glock 19 and Walther .22 into every student he could see. Goddard was hit four times: twice in the hips, once in the right shoulder, once in the left knee.

Now he had returned to the scene of the crime. Throughout Goddard's long recovery--it took a titanium implant and months of physical therapy before he could set aside his crutches and cane and stand on his own two feet--he'd told himself that he wouldn't let the Virginia Tech massacre define him. He would graduate and move on with his life. But then came April 3, 2009, and with it a mass shooting at a Binghamton, N.Y., immigration center that left another 13 people dead. "I watched it on TV all day," Goddard tells NEWSWEEK. "I knew that all those families were rushing to hospitals without knowing what the outcome would be, having their lives turned upside down. I thought, can we really not do something to make this less likely? I decided I couldn't just sit quietly. I had to find a way to address this."

In a few minutes, the result of Goddard's efforts, a pro-gun-control documentary called Living for 32, would debut before a full house of 450 Hokies. Fresh from an acclaimed run at Sundance, the film was tragically well timed. A little more than a month earlier, in Tucson, Ariz., a college dropout named Jared Lee Loughner had gunned down Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others, killing six; the previous weekend, 11 students had been shot and one student killed during a fraternity party in Ohio. The issue was in the air.

But this night, in this town, where the horror of gun violence was no longer an abstraction, had a resonance all its own. "Bringing it here, I thought, was very important," Goddard, 25, told the audience, emotion evident in his voice. "This is where I grew up as an adult. This is where I came to understand that from such bad can come good." Staring out from the stage, he saw his fellow ROTC members and remembered when they'd passed the Army's basic rifle marksmanship course together. He saw a couple of his fraternity brothers and remembered the good times they'd had at the local shooting range. Making the documentary, Goddard said, "has been part of my healing process." But every time there's "another Tucson," he confessed, "I'm right back here again." Then the lights dimmed, and the film began.

Are people like Colin Goddard crazy for thinking that they can change the politics of guns in America? Most Beltway types would say yes, and with good reason. The National Rifle Association, which regularly ranks as the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, has long had a stranglehold on the issue. By outspending, out-organizing, and out-politicking its opponents, the NRA persuaded Democrats, who can control Congress only if they control red districts, to abandon gun safety in the 1980s and 1990s, and since then it has successfully pressed for ever-looser local laws. Consider the case of Tombstone, Ariz., which lies 70 miles southeast of Tucson. When Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp shot up the O.K. Corral in 1881, civilians weren't allowed to carry guns in town; a local ordinance required visitors to check their weapons at the Grand Hotel or the sheriff's office. …