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Guns and Love and Fear

I grew up in Hawaii and sang in a choir.  We were a very tight group of teenagers from various schools.  We were laid back and went to the beach together and sang our hearts out.  Then we all grew up and followed our paths until we met up again on Facebook a number of years ago.  And we were different.  Last night one of my friends, who moved to the Midwest,  posted something supportive of Wayne LaPierre of the NRA and I went ballistic.  I reached out to him and asked how he could possibly hold this view in light of what has been happening lately.  Massacre after massacre after massacre and he still thinks the laws on the books are enough?  He told me about being assaulted once and having a friend who was raped and about his opinion that if good guys were armed then we could fight back against the bad guys.  He wrote “the slippery slope to me is that once a law starts to be framed, it morphs into something very different from its original intent. A well intended law can become a monster with irreversible consequences.”

I told him about my experiences covering massacres like Columbine and the Aurora Theatre shooting for NBC News and meeting victim families and feeling the pain and suffering of survivors as I’ve asked them to share their stories.  I told him about the funeral for Officer Garrett Swasey that I just attended and how a gun didn’t help the good guy on the day he died outside the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood office.  I told him about the very moving End of Watch video that was shown at his service.  I fired back that “apparently people are morphing the second amendment and the constitution into something the founding fathers never intended.”  He and I will never agree on this topic, we are on complete opposite sides of the argument and shake our heads at the other’s point of view, but we had a respectful on line discussion and wished each other a happy holiday season.

Today I mentioned our exchange to my instructor at yoga and he suggested that I come from a place of love and my friend comes from a place of fear.  Last night it seemed that way to me too, but the more I think of it, the more I realize we both come from the same place.  He loves his friends and family and community and I feel the same way about mine.  He thinks the way to protect his people is with guns and I think the way for my people to be safe is to get rid of them.  We are both fearful of where our country is going after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino.  How we differ is in the way to get there.  He holds tight to his rights and his AR-15, and I hold tight to my rights to live in a land free of gun violence and semi-automatic weapons.  I may be naive, but I hope by having the discussion we are a step closer to compromise and something we both can live with.

The dialogue over gun control has devolved into something akin to the fiery rhetoric over abortion.  It is so black and white that it seems there is no middle ground.  The person who shot his gun through the front page editorial about gun control on Saturday’s New York Times is an indication of how counterproductive this argument has become.  People have dug their heels so deeply in the sand they cannot be budged.  But on the issue of gun violence we need to budge.  Hopefully my conversation with my friend is a move towards understanding and maybe others will talk to their friends and neighbors and we will have a larger national conversation that will lead once and for all to our leaders having the courage to craft some common sense solutions that create a safer nation for my friend’s children and mine.  And no, even though my friend worried I would unfriend him, we both have agreed to leave the door open for future conversations.

 


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Guns In My Backyard

The other night while having dinner on our deck on a warm summer evening we heard automatic weapons fire.  We live in the suburbs of Denver, about a mile as the crow flies from the Family Shooting Center in Cherry Creek State Park.  We often hear the peppering of gunfire as people shoot and train with handguns and rifles.  It is background noise for us, just like the planes flying over our house as they line up to land at nearby Centennial Airport.  But this night was different.  It sounded like we were on the front lines in Syria or Afghanistan.  The shooting went on forever.  Non-stop uninterrupted automatic weapons fire.  I called the Sheriff’s office and they said they were getting numerous complaints.  Then I called and left a message at the range, saying they were being insensitive and not being good neighbors, especially in light of the recent Aurora shooting which left so many people dead, injured and on edge.

Much to my surprise, the next evening, the proprietor of Family Shooting Center, Doug Hamilton, called me.  He was very earnest and apologetic that we were disturbed.  He was certain it was an unusual confluence of atmospheric conditions that carried the sound all the way to us.  He told me they were having a special demonstration event for the staff that they do once a year.  He said he was calling back everyone who left a number and wanted to assure me that they were good neighbors.  He even told me about sound buffers they were installing.  We had a good dialogue, but when I suggested to him that perhaps they do not need to fire off automatic weapons at the range, or if it was essential to have this event annually, perhaps his staff could take a field trip to the country, he went silent.  He listened politely to my feelings but when we hung up I wasn’t sure he really heard them.

And therein lies the disconnect.  I will be candid.  I am not a gun person but in recent years my stance has softened dramatically.  My car dealer has his concealed carry permit.  My son’s best friend hunts.  I visited the Tanner Gun Show and understood why some women felt they needed to have a handgun.  I get that people want guns for recreation and protection.  I have learned to respect their rights.  I believe I am being very reasonable.  But I cannot understand why we need to have automatic weapons in my neighborhood or in any neighborhood for that matter.  When I posted my story on Facebook the jaws of my friends in Canada and Australia dropped.  They couldn’t get their heads around an evening in the suburbs listening to automatic weapons fire or even the irony of a place called Family Shooting Center.  They have such a different world view from ours.

Not long ago in another direction a mile away from my house a new business opened.  It is a gun store, with a built in range, and the owners intend to turn the empty lot across the way into a gun club.  Right across the street from my Starbucks and Einstein’s in an upscale suburb of Denver there is now a gun store.  I must confess when I first saw it I had a visceral reaction.  Not in my back yard.  But I’ve accepted it.  The only thing I wish is that since we are sharing common ground, perhaps we can reach some common ground.  Can’t we all at least agree that there is no reason to have automatic weapons around here?  What good comes from them except to kill people?  Can’t we just leave them to those who fight wars?  It seems like such an easy compromise to make and one that many reasonable people are calling for.  It seems like our country and our communities would be so much safer.  It would certainly keep me from losing my appetite during warm summer evening barbeques on my deck in Colorado.

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Acid Attacks Hit Home

NOTE: THE ACID ATTACK IN OREGON TURNED OUT TO BE A SELF-INFLICTED HOAX.

In recent days there have been two brutal acid attacks against women in the United States, one in Oregon and one in Arizona.  Many of you have read the story I wrote about a courageous acid attack victim from Kampala, Uganda named Juliette on this blog.  HDNet’s World Report aired an “in her own words” piece about Juliette that I produced for the show on April 14, 2009.  It is a very powerful story and Juliette’s ability to forgive her attacker and move on is inspirational.  We saw her again when we were in Uganda this past summer. She is now a mother of two children and despite her injuries she is still beautiful and trying to make the most of her life. I hope you are as transformed by Juliette’s story as I was and as horrified by this unbelieveable terrorism against women, not only in the developing world but also here at home.  We cannot let the perpetrators of these crimes go unpunished.  If we cry loud enough we can prevent more women like Juliette from becoming victims of this terrible violence.

http://vimeo.com/5703299

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.


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Columbine Revisited

Has it been 10 years already?  The anniversary of the deadly shooting at Columbine High School is less than a month away and as I dive back in to the story I’m flooded with memories of that Tuesday.  I haven’t really thought about Columbine much over the last few years, except on the painful occasions when another disturbed youth goes ballistic and takes it out on his classmates.  It happened just recently in Germany.  Virginia Tech was another shocking reminder of how helpless we can be when a motivated killer has fellow students in his sight.  Now it’s time to revisit Columbine again.  With the 10th anniversary upon us I can’t help but remember that day and the many days that followed as we covered the story for NBC News. 

I was up in Boulder working on another story when all hell broke loose and we were told to get to Littleton fast.  I remember driving, writing, talking on the phone all at the same time, trying not to collide in traffic.  I didn’t know where the school was.  The roads were closed.  I parked my car a distance away and hitched a ride to where the media was gathered.  I was one of the first on the scene and we started doing live shots.  I don’t think I returned to my car for two days.  The names of the fallen still ring in my ears.  Dave Sanders, Lauren Townsend, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Schoels, Daniel Mauser, Cassie Bernall, Steve Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matt Kechter, Daniel Rohrbough, John Tomlin, Kyle Velasquez.     

We were there with the first responders and in the early chaos it was a blur.  It wasn’t until the reinforcements arrived from NBC News (and there were so many of them who came from all over the country) that I really had time to absorb the incredible scope of the story.  For three weeks we were booking, producing, doing live reports, talking to families and friends of victims, talking to survivors of the horror, attending funerals.  Finally that first weekend I was able to breathe and took a walk at Clement Park along the memorial fence and completely fell apart.  I brought my children.  We read the notes, saw the candles, stuffed animals and flowers.  The whole world was grieving.  There was an aftermath of confusion and compassion. 

Ten years later, what have we learned?  We still hold our guns as dear as we hold our children.  Perhaps we’re better at preventing massacres but now and again some troubled teen like Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold bursts through our defenses and there is carnage again.  Andrew Robinson, a senior at Columbine on April 20, 1999, has created a movie called “April Showers.”  It is not a documentary but rather a theatrical piece about a school shooting “based on actual facts.”  You see where he got his inspiration.  So much of Columbine is recognizable.  At the end of the movie there is a scroll of all the people who have died during school shootings in the U.S.  The list is so long.  Kent State, Virginia Tech, Columbine, on and on.  Viewers watch silently.  Taking it in.

As the anniversary approaches, we are hooking up again with those we met 10 years ago.  They have all kept on going.  Pushing through the pain.  Remembering their loved ones in positive ways.  They have also done remarkable things during the journey to turn a horrible day into a teaching moment.  Darrell and Craig Scott take Rachel’s Challenge into schools so kids will learn to love each other.  Schools have worked hard to teach tolerance, empathy and become safer.  The buildings are not impenetrable but they are better.  Those whose lives were changed forever on that day are coming forward again, perhaps for the last time, to make sure no one ever forgets Columbine.  After all, there are still lessons to learn from that deadly day at school.

For more information on Vicky Collins visit http://teletrendstv.com.