On April 16, 2007, Colin Goddard was shot in the shoulder by 23-year-old fellow student Seung-Hui Cho, who earlier had killed 32 students at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, Virginia. Goddard, 21, an international studies major, faked to be dead, but was able to see Cho’s shoes approaching, inches away from him. The killer shot him two more times in the leg and buttocks. Seconds later, Goddard heard two more shots, and then silence. Cho had taken his own life.
Since then, Goddard has become one of the nation most visible and vocal advocates for gun control. With the help of the Brady Campaign for the Prevention of Gun Violence, he recently shot an undercover video at different gun shows throughout the nation, including one in August 29-30 at the San Antonio Events Center.
The video is a graphic example of the “gun show loophole,” which often allows people to buy weapons at gun shows from independent dealers without having to go through the proper background check (a Brady law mandate that only applies to federally licensed dealers) and often without having to show picture ID.
From France, Goddard answered the questions of the QueBlog via email.
What was your position, if any, on gun control before the Virginia Tech massacre? I didn't have any real position on gun control before everything happened. I grew up overseas most my life, and my family never owned guns. I had the idea that gun violence was something that happened to other people, the "couldn't happen to me" mentality. I had shotguns before and I still do. I've been at a range and hunted several times. I've even passed BRIM (Basic Rifle Marksmanship) in Army ROTC. But I couldn't have told you anything about the different ways you could buy a gun, what the gun laws were, or anything about the debate over gun control. So I understand why some people don't have a strong position on this issue. Unfortunately, it takes a serious incident to get people to wake up, learn how things actually happen, and engage in this debate.
The obvious/stupid question: How did that experience change you? That is a tough question to answer. I think I am still changing and still learning new things about what happened. I think experiencing any near-death situation that seems to come out of nowhere leaves you with the many "Why?" questions. Why did this happen? Why would someone do this? Why am I alive? These are questions that I and everybody else involved wanted to find answers to. In trying to find these answers, I learned a lot about myself and the current state of university, mental health, and gun policies –– the three main causal issues that I think had glaring failures in the time before the shooting:
1. The university failed to notify its students in a timely fashion what had happened. If I had known there had been a double homicide with the shooter still on the loose earlier that morning, I would not have gone to class that day. 2. If Cho had been handled properly by the psychologists he met, and had his outpatient therapy been followed up on, I think this could have improved things. 3. If his disqualifying medical records had been uploaded into the [Bradley law] background check system, he would have been unable to purchase the two guns in the way he did.
I've also become more aware of people who've had similar experiences. I have become friends with some of the students involved in the NIUE shooting [the February 14, 2008, shooting that killed six people and wounded 18 at the Northern Illinois University in DeKalb]. I've been to Finland and met with various people related to the two school shootings they've had. These are people who had to deal with a similar experience. [Talking about] these situations and issues brought up others, and one of these is the gun show loophole. I often hear, "Well, Cho didn't buy his guns at a gun show, so why are you talking about it?" Correct. But the Columbine shooters did. Now Colorado is one of the few states where the gun show loophole is closed; both private sellers and licensed sellers run background checks, and gun shows are doing fine. Can I not talk about a problem and try to work to change it if it didn't directly happen to me?
As for why I'm alive, I don't believe it was "God protecting me" or because "I have some unfulfilled purpose in life," as people have told me. I believe I was lucky. Relatively.
How do you respond to the argument that "The Brady campaign's main goal is to disarm Americans, which is unconstitutional"? I have been to both Brady's staff and board meetings, and I can assure you that this is not a "grand strategy" they discuss. The only time I ever hear that idea is when people tell me that's what we're thinking. The millions of gun owners don't need to have this fear that people are going to physically come and take their guns. It's a false fear that's been created to rowel people up. I don't think anyone should take the gun from a responsible, law-abiding person. I understand the idea of the right to self-defense. When I have a family and home of my own I will definitely consider a firearm for protection if it's necessary.
The recent [U.S.] Supreme Court Heller decision [a landmark 2008 decision which protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for private use] should actually do something good for gun control, because it should debase this "they're coming for our guns" idea and remove the possibility of the "slippery slope" down to a total gun ban in America. The Supreme Court said nothing like that can ever come to pass. And, if you want to bring up the Constitution, I would first say, read the whole sentence and not just the last bit [of the decision]. Many books have argued over the idea of the "militia," its relevancy in modern times, and other parts of the Second Amendment, so I can't really do this idea justice in a couple lines. But I think people should know that the Second Amendment is the only amendment with the word "well-regulated" in it.
What [the] Brady [law] is talking about is how to make it harder for criminals and other prohibited purchasers to buy guns the same way the law-abiding citizens do. Yes, there is the black market, but 1.8 million illegal firearm transactions have already been prevented by the Brady background check. If criminals didn't buy guns from the same places good citizens did, then why would this number be as high as it is? I'd like to change the sentence I often hear: "Well, criminals could always get the guns from the black market or on the streets" to "Well, criminals would have to get their guns from the black market or on the streets." Make them go to the black market or somewhere else; don't just give up and say there is nothing we can ever do about how people get their guns.
I find it amusing that a person who calls you a "lying coward" doesn't give his/her name out. I'm sure you've seen this blog. I actually hadn't seen this blog entry before but it's not the first time people have said some pretty intense things about me. And yes, they often don't give their name when they do, but I don't know anything about this blog. I've found you need to have a thick skin if you want to ask questions or pose new ideas on this issue. I really don't like giving too much time to those who choose to speak their different opinion in a such a way.
Another argument from that blog: "There is no gun show loophole. Private firearm sales done between people are called Person to Person Purchases (PPP). Federal law clearly requires the seller to establish the buyer’s eligibility to purchase a firearm during such a transaction. Don’t believe me, I dare you to read the law. A PPP sale without that is a violation of Federal Law!" This guy/girl doesn’t get it, does he/she? You should ask, how do they establish the buyer's eligibility to purchase a firearm then? At the gun shows I attended, some private sellers would ask you verbal questions like how old you are and [whether you] live in the state, and some won't. Some will ask to see ID, but if you don't have it it's not a problem. Some sellers would deny you if you didn't have ID, which was great, but the problem is that you just move down a few tables and buy the same gun from a seller who won't need to see it. I think "establishing a buyer’s eligibility" shouldn't be done by questions posed verbally; I think you need to check to see if what they say is true. The point-of-sale is really the only moment where you can do something about firearms falling into the wrong hands. And how would you check into the real important parts of their eligibility, like their criminal record, any recorded mental illnesses, etc.? By asking them again? Private sellers are not required to run a background check into any of this information, the same checks that licensed sellers run right next to them. There is no real standard for private sellers at gun shows, but it's the same everywhere for licensed sellers. I say: Hold the private sellers to the same standards as the licensed sellers. Give the private sellers the same clipboards of background check forms that the licensed sellers have. A gun show is a publicly advertised venue open to everyone, there is nothing private about the transactions that happen there. With the exception of antiques and/or muzzle-loaders, every gun sold at a gun show should be sold to someone who has proven they passed all the same requirements of eligibility. Our best method of doing that now, which can be flawed due to the missing data between the state and federal level, is the NICKS [National Instant Criminal Background Check System] background check. I think this system should be improved and every state should be obliged to keep it up-to-date.
I read some things your mother said right after the tragedy. She was instrumental in your speaking out against unregulated gun purchases, wasn’t she? Yes, my mother was very supportive of me when I began to get involved in issues. But I'd say it was my father who I followed when speaking out against unregulated gun sales. Both of them, along with many of the other victim's families, kept inquiring into how things came to pass at my school, and helped bring to light some of the major failures leading up to that day.
I saw the video you did in San Antonio and other cities. Were these transactions the only ones you did without having to show your ID? Did you have to show ID and submit to a background check in most cases? Were the cases you show in the video isolated? No, those were not the only transactions I, and the others I went with, did without having to show ID. I was turned away twice by individual private sellers because I didn't have ID but, in the vast majority of cases, no ID was no problem. Occasionally we would bring our ID's and show them when asked, and private sellers would use it to write a receipt of the transactions for their personal records. One seller described this to me as his "get out of jail free card." If something bad did happen with that gun and it was traced back to the private seller, he could use it to say he sold the gun off to this person on this day. I often hear the words "responsibility" and "respect" used when talking about gun ownership, but when these same items go up for sale, these ideas take a back seat to the idea of making money. You should be responsible when you own the gun, responsible when you sell your gun, and know who it is you’re selling it to.