I photographed Clai Lasher-Sommers, a gun violence and domestic violence survivor, years ago as part of the It Takes Us project. This weekend, she shared her story with WBUR news. Her story of survival and strength is amazing, but the circumstances that led to her injury are unfortunately not unique.
Here are 3 important take-aways that Clai’s story illustrates:
1. Gun violence is an intersectional issue.
The intersection of guns and domestic violence is a common and dangerous problem. In Clai’s instance, she was shot by her physically abusive stepfather as a child.
“He would hold the house hostage,” Lasher-Sommers said. “[He would] beat my mother, beat my brother and then beat me. [He would] take the gun and put it against my neck and hold me up against the wall.”
Clai’s mother and family was one of the many people put in danger’s path by an abusive partner with access to guns. In an average month, at least 52 American women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and many more are injured (Everytown For Gun Safety). In addition to domestic violence, gun violence intersects with issues of racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, poverty, and more with dangerous consequences.
2. Being shot changes your body permanently.
When Clai’s stepfather shot her as a child with a .30–06, a powerful hunting rifle, the bullet tore through a kidney, just missed her spine, and exited through her back. She has since underwent multiple surgeries, and was partially paralyzed for six months. Her kidney was permanently damaged.
“I have one kidney that’s full of shrapnel and barely works,” she said. “Even today, lead comes out of my body — so that’s like a constant reminder.”
Though she was fortunate to survive, Clai was one of the many children whose bodies have been permanently changed by a gun injury. Every year, it’s estimated that over 3,200 children develop a disability as a result of a fire-arm related injury (Everytown For Gun Safety).
3. The psychological trauma stays with you.
To this day, Clai lives with the PTSD caused by her shooting.
“You do not ever get rid of PTSD… I don’t know anyone who has gotten over it. But you learn to walk beside it. That is the best that I can do.”
There is little research focusing on the impact that gun violence has on survivors’ mental health, but Clai’s experience has been echoed time and time again in my conversations with over 100 survivors over the years.