Q & A: Colin Goddard
Colin Goddard was shot four times in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, where he was a student. As part of his personal recovery, he decided to explore gun policies. In his documentary, “Living for 32,” Goddard works to bring increased regulation on gun policies throughout the US. North Carolinians Against Gun Violence approached Goddard to screen the film and explain the cause at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Staff writer Nidhi Singh chatted with Goddard to learn about his documentary effort to change the law.
Canvas: Tell me a little about the film and why you decided to make the film.
Colin Goddard: You know after the shooting happened in 2007, I still had one year left at school to finish. After I physically got better that summer, I went back to school. I was focused on finishing out and getting my college degree.
When I was recovering, my parents were trying to figure out ‘how did this happen to my child?’ Parents just have that feeling to protect their kid. More information was coming out about the shooter and they were learning about all this stuff and unifying all of the families together. They were telling me some of the stuff. I couldn’t deal with it at the time. I was focused on getting better and getting back to school.
I came to realize that some people could just go to the store or the internet and buy guns without a background check. I thought ‘Wow. This is pretty crazy.’ I thought that there were systems of licensing and registration. I’ve shot guns in the past at the range and at the ROTC. This world opened up where we realized we don’t do a lot when it comes to guns. It wasn’t a big issue to me until I kept seeing all those mass shootings. There were shootings in Northern Illinois (University) and Pittsburgh.
There was one shooting where I couldn’t handle it anymore at Binghamton Immigration Center where thirteen people were killed. I kept seeing this stuff happen on TV and everything that happened to me just came back. I thought “Why aren’t we doing anything about this?” All of those feelings just came together. That’s when I called up Paul Helmke, (former) president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. I wanted to share my experience and work with him so we can do something about it to prevent my experience from happening to others.
Canvas: Why did you decide to make the film?
CG: It was soon after I got involved and I shared my story to a group of campaign supporters in the summer of 2009. A woman came up to me and said ‘I thought your story was very compelling. We should document it down. Would you like to do a five minute video to get your story down?’ What started as a five minute PSA turned into something else. When I got to the site and after cameras were turned off, I kept talking to Maria Cuomo Cole and Kevin Breslin about some of the things I had learned. I had toured gun shows across the country. I took videos of all this. And I told them that stuff. They asked to get together to film again and I was like ‘yeah definitely.’ What started as a five minute thing turned into a 40 minute film.
Canvas: How has the film helped you cope with events?
CG: The film has been part of my personal healing process. Now I have documented my story on film so that I can go in front of people who have never heard of the story before and not have to physically tell it over and over again. I can show how I got involved. I don’t have to sit there and go through it all again. I can come to the audience and say what we can do with Congress and others so they can get involved. I can turn something negative into something positive. Usually there is always one person, who says ‘you know my brother killed himself and I’ve never been able to tell someone this.’ I feel like I’m doing something right. It makes me want to get involved. It’s the toughest and the best thing happening together. I hear horrible stories. But then they say they want to help and it goes from one of the toughest things to getting someone to get the story off their chest for the first time.
Canvas: What do the awards you’re receiving for the film mean to you? [The film was selected to be screened at Sundance Film Festival, Silverdocs Documentary Festival and last spring’s Full Frame Film Festival.]
CG: Since I first got those gunshots, my life has been on an up and down wave. I’m riding it and going as far as I can go with it. Not everyone who experienced the shooting does what I do. The people who aren’t are not being irresponsible by any means. For me, I really didn’t have a path. I wasn’t as serious as what I wanted to be in school. I came to a new understanding after the shooting. And I started a path. I hope I don’t have to do this for the rest of my life and I just want to build enough support. That’s ultimately what I’m here to do. I’ve moved the ball forward and progressed the issue. I’m sure I’ll always be interested for what’s going on in this world. It’s straining. It is positive. This will be one piece of what I do from now on.
Canvas: Why should people come to the screening?
CG: This is educational on many levels on what it’s like to have gun violence. People think ‘As long as I stay in a nice area, I’m not going to get shot.’ These things do happen when you don’t expect whether it’s at UNC or Virginia Tech. Don’t think that because you’re in a nice area that nothing will happen. I want people to realize some of the laws in this country. I thought there was a registration and licensing or background checks. Not everyone does all of that. We should be doing background checks on everyone no matter who it is or where it is.
We also have to get records straight. It’s a two part thing: making sure all records are in the system and applying that system across that board. There will be people who are adamantly opposed to the idea. I’ve already gotten emails. You should see the hate mail I get. The majority of the people who have sent me mail have not seen the film. People think I’m trying to get guns out of the country and I’m not.
Canvas: Where do you stand on gun laws now? In other words, have gun laws changed at all since the making of this film?
CG: Things have changed in the opposite direction in my opinion. It is now easier to carry a concealed weapon in our country with less standards. I work day in and day out at Capitol Hill to try to build support for background checks. We have the most support. We’re still not where we need to be. Part of that is that people need to be engaged. There are some elected officials who need to hear and get involved in this. We need a happy medium of gun laws that we can find. That’s what I’m trying to work towards.
You can carry a concealed weapon in Virginia and get your permit without ever holding a gun. You just watch an hour-long video on the Internet. I believe it’s the same in North Carolina.
Canvas: What is your opinion of the Texas law that was in debate which proposed to allow students on school campuses to carry guns in their own defense?
CG: That law was defeated this past session as it was in 22 other states. One state, Wisconsin, did change the law this past year to allow students and faculty to bring guns on campus but not in buildings. If you can’t bring guns into buildings, who are they expecting to bring guns into school? This has been tried over 60 times in over 30 states since the shooting. The Virginia Tech shooting is always brought up in each case to defend the point.
I don’t agree that putting more guns will make us safer. If that idea was fundamentally true, then the US would be the safest place in the world. How many more guns do you need to become safer for everybody?
That’s BS, especially when we don’t do background checks. We need to look at ways to stop that person from coming into the school ready to kill someone. When they’re already there, you’ve already lost. I want to be proactive. There’s always someone who knows beforehand that something is not right. The mode of communication between parents, students, faculty and facilities is weak.
(Seung-Hui) Cho was getting mental help on campus. His parents didn’t know. Privacy laws are a big part. What happened at my school wasn’t just gun laws. It was privacy laws. There’s not one solution. It’s going to take different facets of policies to see a reduction in these types of incidents.
The main point of this film is to do background checks on everyone. Mental health and school policies are huge. People try to make it on one problem.
Canvas: While making this film, what have you learned?
CG: I know I’ve talked a lot about laws and policies but I believe it is absolutely important to reduce the number of people shot and killed every year. We need to deal with easy accessibility in this country. There are programs that work from the bottom-up that work with people’s behavior. People who are using guns to solve their problems. Showing people ways to deal with their problems. It is very cyclical. If someone is shot, friends and families retaliate. And it goes around and around. There are programs that give people more options and make people step back and think whether having a gun is absolutely necessary.
The U.S. is a leading country from all modern industrialized country for killing people.
“Living for 32” is being screened at the Gillings School of Public Health, Rosenau Hall Auditorium 133. The screening begins at 6:30 p.m. and will last about an hour. Admission is free. Goddard and his parents will be at the screening and will speak briefly afterward.
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