Gun Violence Victims Want Say In Firearm Regulations : Shots - Health News Advocates in Texas wants to help people who've been disabled by gun violence talk to lawmakers. Victims say they have a big stake in how guns are regulated.

Texas Disability Group Wants Victims' Voices Heard In Gun Debate

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In Texas, disability groups are asking their members, how many people became disabled due to gun violence? Their goal - to give the disability community a louder voice in the debate over guns in the state. Ashley Lopez of member station KUT reports.

ASHLEY LOPEZ, BYLINE: About 25 years ago, Susan Nelson was having dinner at a friend's house.

SUSAN NELSON: He had a gun. And he had a right to have that gun. It was registered and everything.

LOPEZ: There was also a young man there that night. He'd been thrown out of his parents' house and was unstable. He found the gun and confronted both Nelson and her friend. He said he was going to rob and then kill them. Nelson says he then shot her in the left shoulder.

NELSON: I stood up to turn to run and was shot in the back of the head. And my friend was, as well. And that's the last part I remember of this shooting. My friend died in flight to the hospital, and I awoke from a coma two weeks later.

LOPEZ: She was 29 years old. And she had to start her life all over.

NELSON: I was paralyzed. I couldn't - I could barely read and write. I had - my vision was really bad, so I had to spend the next seven months in therapy relearning everything and working really, really hard.

LOPEZ: Her hard work paid off. Nelson can walk now. She's a writer and her vision is good. But she says she still lives with various disabilities.

NELSON: It takes me longer to formulate my sentences because my brain doesn't work as fast to make the words come out of my mouth.

LOPEZ: This experience hasn't changed Nelson's relationship with guns, though. Nelson grew up in southeast Texas, surrounded by guns. She says she still thinks people who are responsible should be able to have them.

NELSON: I'm not against guns. And I don't know that everyone who gets shot - it's going to turn them against guns.

LOPEZ: And this is something disability rights groups in Texas are expecting as they survey their members. Bob Kafka is with ADAPT of Texas - one of those groups. They sent a questionnaire to their members earlier this year, asking how many of them became disabled due to gun violence. They want a head count, so they can educate lawmakers and testify on gun legislation. Kafka says he's expecting to hear a range of perspectives on guns from the disability community because it's so big.

BOB KAFKA: We have people on both sides of the issue. It's not like we're anti-guns, pro - you know, there's probably NRA members in the disability community.

LOPEZ: In fact, he points out Texas's very conservative and very pro-gun Governor Greg Abbott is a member of that community. He has used a wheelchair since he was 26 after a tree fell on him while he was jogging after a storm. Kafka says we should hear from people who are disabled due to gun violence mostly because we rarely do.

KAFKA: Not only do we not talk about, it's invisible. You know, I mean, the media loves to focus on how many people die, you know, and then they have the sort of other injured. But I've never seen where they follow the rehab of somebody.

LOPEZ: And the focus has also been on the victims of mass shootings, says Noam Ostrander with the School of Social Work at DePaul University in Chicago. Ostrander says a lot of people become disabled because of day-to-day gun violence in major cities. For many years, Ostrander worked with gang members in the West Side of Chicago who became paralyzed after being shot.

NOAM OSTRANDER: The cost for that injury - and that often then becomes public cost - is astronomical. And I think that that would be shocking to a lot of folks.

LOPEZ: It's also easy to forget, Ostrander says, that about three to five times the number of people who die from gun violence actually survive. For NPR News, I'm Ashley Lopez in Austin.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, KUT and Kaiser Health News.


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