My name is Diana Barker. I am 74 years old. I live in Kingwood, Texas. 32 years ago, my husband, Paul, and I moved to the United States from increasingly violent South Africa. We wanted to raise our children in a safe place. We became American citizens in 1996. We have two married sons, Matthew and Richard, who with their wives gave us four wonderful grandchildren.
I am anybody’s mother and grandmother. I am someone who watched the news and felt sad about each horrible gun tragedy reported, but like most of you, I said: it could never happen to me.
Then the night of January 13, 2011, my life was changed forever. It was a cold Thursday night, but we were feeling the warmth of friendship as Paul and I celebrated a birthday with another couple at an upscale restaurant in Kingwood. Unbeknownst to me, a man sitting at the table behind me was showing his friend his sable-lined leather jacket. Apparently, he had ‘forgotten’ about the Derringer pistol in his pocket – a torn pocket. The gun fell out and hit the floor. It discharged.
My life was changed forever.
The sound of the gun going off was deafening. I felt the bullet enter my body. I screamed. I collapsed under the table. The bullet tore apart my intestines, damaged my sciatic nerve and then lodged itself in my ribs just below my right armpit. My husband, Paul, yelled for help. My son, Richard, who was in the bar, ran to my side. Richard then went to the gun owner and took the gun away from him as he’d already put it in his jacket pocket – and told him to wait for the police to arrive.
I was unconscious. I was rushed by ambulance to Houston’s Ben Taub Hospital. I underwent two life-or-death surgeries. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for two weeks. I mercifully can’t recall those painful two weeks, where my family was constantly scared for my life. Two weeks where my family watched me suffer terribly. Once stable, I was discharged to Texas Institute of Research and Rehabilitation (TIRR). (Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman from Arizona who made headlines when she was shot just 5 days before I was shot, arrived at TIRR that same day.) At TIRR, my very serious wounds were treated, I underwent extensive physical therapy and I began to contend with my newly attached colostomy bag.
By August 2011, I had five major surgeries in seven months. In one of the surgeries, the neurosurgeon attempted to graft the 13” sural nerve from the back of my right leg on to the sciatic nerve, in hopes that I would regain use of my paralyzed left foot and ankle. To this day, I still have no sensation in my paralyzed foot. I may never be able to walk normally again. I am a fighter and have done everything in my physical power to return to my normal activities. The recoveries from each surgery were difficult and the reality that one bullet can do such ravaging damage has been difficult to comprehend.
My injury was preventable. The gun owner should have known better. The District Attorney found him not to be criminally negligent as there was no “intent”— despite his gross negligence. He did not receive as much as a slap on the wrist— presumably he still has his guns as he did have a legal TX license to carry a concealed weapon. The 66 year-old, college educated, USAF Vietnam veteran, should have known better. Moreover, the laws of my state do not hold gun owners accountable for such negligence.
If he had hit me with his car, his insurance would have at the very least covered my medical bills. Why aren’t gun owners required to insure their weapons?
My life is irrevocably changed by the gun owner’s negligence.
There are too many victims like me. Too many who have been injured, but survive with major medical issues, that have no recourse for justice by law.
I was having dinner at a nice restaurant. I wasn’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. The gun owner was in the wrong the second he didn’t secure his weapon. The justice system is in the wrong for not holding him accountable.
As hard as it has been for me to regain mobility, I have. And as I move through the world with a new less stable walk, I know that I must stand up for gun sense in America. A man who didn’t take seriously enough the responsibility that comes along with gun ownership changed my life forever. Now, I will do everything I can to prevent his kind of negligence from being condoned by the law.
My life was changed forever. I want to do everything I can to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to you. You never think it will, I never thought it would, but I am living proof, lax laws leave us all vulnerable.
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected].