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Where I Interview My Friend Mindy Who Survived A Mass Shooting When We Were Teens

The image should have shocked me to my core: Small children being led hand in hand by police from the scene of a mass shooting.

My breath caught in my throat, but not because I’d never seen anything like it. It was the strange familiarity of the now famous image of survivors being led out of Sandy Hook that first struck me as I struggled with the rest of the nation to wrap my mind around what had just happened.

Thirteen years ago, a gunman walked in to the North Valley Jewish Community Center while day camp was in session and opened fire with an uzi. My friend Mindy Finkelstein — sixteen at the time and overseeing a group of five year olds on the playground — was among the wounded.

I wrote about my experience as a teenager processing those events as they struck so close to home HERE, but no one knows more about that day and the current state of gun violence in America than Mindy, who has worked tirelessly for the safety of our streets since she left the hospital a survivor thirteen years ago. Even if that means fielding my questions about common sense gun laws and expired assault weapons bans amidst rotting nap schedules (my daughter’s…oh the humanity) and night time scuba lessons (Mindy’s – I am nowhere near that bad ass) because as a parent and feeling totally helpless, I need to know what the quickest steps to safety are and I need to know NOW.

Mindy Finkelstein

ME: Tell me about the day you were shot.

MINDY FINKELSTEIN (MF):  It was August 10th 1999 and I was working as a camp counselor. I was sixteen years old in the right place at the right time when a neo nazi walked in shooting. I was shot twice in my right leg and there were three five year old boys with me who were also hit as well and a sixty five year old woman. We were all lucky enough to survive the attack but a man named Joseph Ileto was killed later that day by the same gunman at a different location.

Me: What was your recovery like?

MF: My physical recovery took about eight weeks but I still suffer from some nerve damage. Emotionally, I still suffer from PTSD especially every time there is another mass shooting. Just when I think its been thirteen years and time heals all wounds, I see images on the news of those little kids hand in hand walking out of the school and I’m sixteen; right back at the JCC.

Me: We keep hearing the term “common sense gun law” and I’ve heard you advocate for that before — at the risk of seeming dense: what is common sense gun law?

MF: It is exactly that. Something that just makes sense. Like an assault weapons ban, which would ban weapons designed for combat from being purchased by civilians, or ensuring background checks on all gun purchases. Did you know that 40% of all gun purchases are made without a background check? This is basic common sense, this is not infringing on the second amendment at all.

Me: Let’s talk about the second amendment for a moment. I know you treasure your freedoms and so do I. But something has to change, right?

MF: Honestly the second amendment refers to a “WELL REGULATED MILITIA” — currently we are clearly not regulated well and we are certainly not all part of a militia. Our national approach to guns needs to acknowledge that guideline.

Me: How do you respond to those who say the best way to protect ourselves is to arm every citizen?

MF: I simply say that there is no way you can safely arm every citizen. There are too many individuals that SHOULD NEVER  be allowed to own a gun because they lack the necessary responsibility.

From a practical standpoint, the day I was shot I was just playing outside with the kids, cleaning up after a game with my backpack on and supplies in my arms. If I had a gun, one of my campers could have gotten a hold of it and killed himself or another kid. Or if my backpack fell, the gun could have gone off accidentally. Arming everyone is simply put the wrong solution to the problem.

Me: In your opinion, what is the absolute ideal situation for guns in this country?

MF: We need to make it at least as hard to buy a gun as we do to get a driver’s license. We go through a mandatory training process and a mandatory testing process. THIS NEEDS TO BE THE CASE WITH A GUN.  A gun’s sole purpose is to kill, a car’s sole purpose is to take you from place to place. Simple common sense regulations.

Me: Your shooting involved three children under the age of six — how was their recovery process different from yours?

MF: Their recovery has been extremely different. The emotional affects of the shooting continue today, as do mine and most survivors, but theirs started later in life. I keep in touch with one of my campers more than the others, but I know he suffers from constant nightmares and significant anxiety.

Me: Is there anything you’d say to the young survivors of Sandy Hook?

MF: Honestly I wish there was something I could say to make their recovery any easier but that’s not the case. I do recommend to reach out to other survivors, we share a common bond and its much easier to talk to each other about our experiences in an effort to heal.

Me: Your shooting spurred the formation of The Million Mom March. Do you see that event being revived?

MF: I have been heavily involved with the Million Mom March. We currently are all working as individual chapters in our local areas and doing what we can as a collective; whether or not there will be a physical march all together is yet to be determined. But in the mean time in our own regions we are all organizing smaller events in an effort to honor the victims and let their families know they won’t die in vain and we will work for them and on behalf of them.

Me: What steps would you like to see congress take in the wake of Sandy Hook?

MF: Well the first three things that need to be addressed are universal background checks, banning high capacity magazines and the assault weapons ban being rewritten and reinstated with clear measures in place.

Me: So what do we do now? What’s the first step? How can we as parents help?

MF: I suggest signing up on demandaplan.org and wearebetterthanthis.org and get involved with your local chapters who will get you to reach out to your local elected officials and let them know you believe strongly in common sense gun legislation!

Well, I’m going to do both. Mindy mentions reinstating the assault weapons ban signed by President Clinton in 1994 which amongst its provisions prevented the sale of high-capacity magazines. The ban was allowed to expire under President Bush in 2004; a lapse in national judgement which haunts me. When Mindy’s attacker opened fire on five year old campers and their caretakers in 1999 {with an assault rifle he purchased legally at a gun show despite having a history of mental illness} those children survived. In Sandy Hook last week, the shooter reportedly not only carried multiple high-capacity magazines, he had rigged them to reload quickly. We all know the horrific results.

Gun ownership has become the deadliest hobby in the world. Our kids deserve better, and nothing will change unless we band together and change it. I’m in. Are you?

I do for work what most folks do to waste time. (I don’t know how that happened either.) Follow my productivity on The818.com, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest.

More from Morgan:
My Mom Had A Wardrobe Malfunction At My Bat Mitzvah
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