Virginia Tech survivor promotes gun control documentary

Jan. 18, 2011, 12:30 a.m.
Virginia Tech survivor promotes gun control documentary
Colin Goddard and Mindy Finkelstein answer questions following a screening of "Living for 32." The film follows Goddard a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre, as he works to "improve gun laws" in the U.S. (ALEX SIMON/The Stanford Daily)

Political activism has always been integral to Colin Goddard’s life – an International Relations major and natural-born globetrotter, Goddard has continually upheld a strong set of political beliefs. Goddard, a recent graduate of Virginia Tech, is one of the 17 survivors of the 2007 Virginia Tech campus shooting. After that experience, his beliefs and convictions have only grown stronger.

In “Living for 32,” a documentary film based on Goddard’s reaction to the Virginia Tech massacre, Goddard voices his concerns about gun control, and his hopes for change. “Living for 32” draws in the media’s attention with its emotional impact and call for action, particularly resonant because of the recent Arizona shooting. The film, directed by Kevin Breslin, has been shortlisted for an Oscar and will be screening at the Sundance Film Festival next week.

Thursday evening, Colin Goddard spoke with Stanford students after a screening of “Living for 32” hosted by Stanford Film Society in the Roble Theatre. For the Q&A session, he was accompanied by another victim of gun violence, Mindy Finkelstein, who was injured in the 1999 Jewish Community Center shooting, and by Linda Platt, representative for the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Four years ago, on the morning of April 16, 17 people were injured and 32 killed in Norris Hall, Virginia Tech. The film opens with Goddard visiting the graves of his classmates on a quiet morning, and then builds into a sequence of police reports, glimpses of Norris Hall and the sounds of blaring gunshots. Then we cut to Goddard sitting in a half-lit classroom, telling us his story with a steady, determined voice.

At the onset of the attack, Goddard called 911 – the first call to alert the police of the situation. Goddard was shot four times, and underwent intense physical therapy for many months following. He had the choice to either suppress what had happened to him, or to internalize and transform it into positive action, into ideas and information that could help strengthen gun control laws.

“I believe in this and I don’t want to move on until I’ve accomplished something,” Goddard said.

In the film, through the use of his own camerawork, Goddard helps demonstrate the availability of guns to potentially dangerous individuals. He secretly videotapes his interactions with dealers at gun-shows, and in some instances, he’s able to purchase a gun by showing only his driver’s license to the dealer, and sometimes not even that.

Through this film, Goddard hopes to raise awareness of his story and perspective.

“I believe in the work and in the message and this is an opportunity to spread it and for other people to hear it,” he said. He is also directly involved with gun control legislation – on Jan. 18 he’ll be on Capitol Hill with Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, introducing a piece of legislation that would prohibit the sale of high-capacity magazine guns, which he believes has “a direct relation to the shooting at Arizona and also the shooting at Virginia Tech.” According to Goddard, at the Arizona shooting, the shooter only had time to shoot one ammunition clip, and had it only contained 15 rounds instead of 33, then 20 people would not have died that day.

“By doubling the size of your ammunition clips, you don’t get double the amount of deer on your hunting excursions, you don’t kill double the amount of intruders that come into your home, but you quite often have double the amount of innocent people who are killed,” said Goddard.

“Living for 32” ends with a dedication, listing the names of the 32 people who lost their lives at Virginia Tech, a list that feels endless. The film is also dedicated to the 32 people who are killed every day in this country due to gun violence.

“That’s a Virginia Tech that happens everyday that people just don’t know about, because it doesn’t make the front-page paper. Our generation needs to know that,” Goddard said.

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