The following is an opinion piece by Brenda Moss, a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and a Moms Demand Action volunteer from Virginia who lost her son to gun violence.
From the moment you bring a child into this world, you are a mother. Your life and your heart are etched with a different story. It will never just be about you again. On both the frustrating days and in the sweet moments, you will know what it is like to watch a part of your heart beat outside of your body. You are a mother long after your child learns to live in this world on their own and becomes a parent themselves. You are a mother even after your child no longer walks on this earth.
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For that reason and so many more, Mother’s Day is challenging for those of us who have had a child taken by gun violence. I look at my two beautiful sons, Keith and Anthony, and I long so fiercely for my oldest, Shawn, to be beside them. But instead of getting to watch his own son grow up, Shawn’s life ended with 17 bullets. My son was shot and killed by a convicted felon who should never have had access to a gun.
On Aug. 26, 2014, I received a knock on the door that would change everything. The man who shot Shawn had hidden in the bushes and then fled the scene. It took authorities a month to track him down, and even longer for him to be held accountable for my son’s murder.
Brenda Moss with her son, Shawn
Courtesy of Brenda Moss
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The knock on my door in August changed the direction of my life in so many ways. I felt as if the glass containing my whole existence had been knocked over, and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get up the spill. The effects of Shawn’s death rippled through our family — his brothers, aunts, uncles and friends. You now have to learn to live without the heartbeat that was outside your body. This is why I fight every day of my life so other mothers won’t have to feel this pain.
In the midst of this unprecedented coronavirus pandemic and the surge in gun sales it has brought, we need our laws to meet the moment. We need a federal law requiring background checks on all gun sales, similar to the one Moms Demand Action volunteers just worked so hard to pass in my home state of Virginia. We need to do everything we can to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them — and we need to close the loopholes in our laws that dangerous people exploit.
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We need red flag laws that empower families and law enforcement to ask a judge to temporarily suspend a person’s access to guns when they are in crisis. We need secure storage laws that will protect children from unintentional shootings and reduce teen firearm suicides. We need to stand with those who are experiencing domestic violence during this time of quarantine and make sure their abusers can’t arm themselves and turn their abuse deadly.
I’ve made this the fight of my life because that is what Shawn would want me to do. My firstborn was a tiny baby who grew into a big man; he weighed just 5 pounds 6 ounces at birth, and would grow up to stand 6 feet 7 inches tall. It was fitting, because Shawn was larger in life in every way: his laugh was huge and contagious, he loved basketball, football and clowning around with the kids. But he was also wise beyond his years, fiercely protective of me and encouraging even when our lives were hard.
One of my sweetest memories of Shawn is how he used to tiptoe into my room in the morning to check on me; I would sometimes squeeze my eyes tight and pretend I was asleep so I could savor it just a little bit longer. He would coach me, pump me up, telling me, “Dukes, there is nothing you can’t do. Let’s get it.” In turn, I wanted him to know that I was his loudest cheerleader and greatest advocate, too.
His death hasn’t changed that. My choice to give Shawn a voice didn’t start when he was shot, but it just got louder. That’s why I’m spending Mother’s Day weekend helping to run a training for my fellow warriors in the Everytown Survivor Network, helping gun violence survivors share their stories in this new virtual world. Because our children’s lives matter, and by sharing their stories—our stories—we can rewrite American history. We can end this gun violence epidemic.
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Shawn was always able to see the potential in me even when I couldn’t see it in myself. This Mother’s Day, I know he would be proud of the warrior I’ve become. And I’ll forever be proud of him. After all, I will always be his mom.
Brenda Moss is a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and a Moms Demand Action volunteer from Virginia.