Why Should You Support Red Flag Law?

To start, know that Red Flag Law is also referred to as gun violence restraining orders or in the case of our bill, SB 244 Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs).

Red flag laws are hot right now. 14 states have red flag (each a little different due to each state’s unique needs) and of those 14, a majority passed in 2018 in the wake of Parkland. Because the law is hot, it has become a magnet for media-attention and I’ve seen a multitude of articles and interviews filled with misinformation. Let me try to cut through some of that for you.

But first…

Whitney/Strong will only champion gun violence prevention solutions if they meet two requirements: 1) they are supported by the majority and 2) data exists that proves the solution will be impactful.

Red flag fits both requirements and as such, it is the first solution we are ready to aggressively champion!

Majority Supported

1)     In response to Parkland, President Trump called on all states to adopt ERPOs and directed the Department of Justice to provide technical assistance to states that want to implement the orders. The President reiterated this stance on the one-year anniversary of Parkland (February 14, 2019).

2)     On January 3, 2019, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Angus King (I-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME) re-introduced the bipartisan ERPO and Violence Prevention Act, which will dedicate Department of Justice funds to incentivize states to give law enforcement the authority to prevent individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others the ability to purchase or possess firearms, while still providing due process protections.

3)     Per a 2018 New England Journal of Medicine article, 78.9% of Americans support ERPOs, with differences between firearm owners and non-owners of just 5.3 percentage points.

4)     The Federal Commission for School Safety Final Report (a group orchestrated by President Trump after Parkland) recommended ERPOs in December 2018. The report cites ERPO as a stop gap for reporting individuals who show warning signs of potential violence. To read the full recommendation, read pages 91-96 here: School Safety Report.

Evidence of Impact

1)     Suicide Prevention – Per the School Safety Final Report, a recent study looked at both the Connecticut and Indiana laws. It found that Indiana’s law was associated with a 7.5 percent decrease in firearm suicides during the 10 years following its enactment. Connecticut’s law was associated with a 13.7 percent decrease between 2007 and 2015.

2)     On April 12, 2018 the day after Vermont enacted this lifesaving policy, Vermont law enforcement obtained a gun violence restraining order against an 18-year old who had planned a mass shooting at a high school. The would-be murderer kept a diary called “Journal of an Active Shooter,” in which he detailed his plans to cause more casualties than any previous school shooting.

3)     Per U.S. News and World Report, Montgomery County Sheriff Darren Popkin out of Maryland, said of more than 300 protective orders in the first three months since the law took effect, five of them were school-related threats and four of those were “significant threats.”

Back to the misinformation... let me give you facts to help combat it.

What is the problem?

Whether through acquiring illegally or legally, dangerous individuals gain access to firearms. Furthermore, dangerous individuals use those firearms to commit violent acts on themselves or others. Red flag laws allow family or household members, in addition to law-enforcement officers, to petition the court to keep firearms away from a dangerous person in the throes of a crisis.

How does it work?

While the law varies amongst the 14 states with Red Flag in place, in Kentucky we propose the family or household member (or law enforcement or qualified mental health professional) present evidence to a judge supporting his/her claims regarding the dangerous person. If the evidence is convincing and the risk is great, the firearm(s) must be surrendered temporarily and in a timely manner. The respondent, the individual who has surrendered his/her firearm, is then provided within 14 days due process protections via a hearing with a judge (jury may be requested). The respondent may provide evidence in favor of retaining access to his/her firearm.

The final decision is made by a judge (or jury upon request). If the judge or jury determines the respondent is unable to retain his/her firearm, the firearm is stored securely for a period of time (current KY bill is considering one year).

Due Process Concerns Addressed

1.     Petitioner Scope should be limited. Done – Only law enforcement, qualified medical health professionals, and family or household members can petition a court for removal of a firearm. Those closest to the dangerous individual should only be allowed to petition.

2.     Criminal penalties for those who bring false or frivolous charges. Done – In our proposed bill, this individual is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

3.     High Burden of Proof. Done – Clear and Convincing Evidence is required at the evidentiary hearing on day 14 to continue to retain the firearm for a period of one year.

4.     A jury would provide the opportunity to eliminate judge bias. Done – a respondent can request a jury for determining the outcome of the evidentiary hearing.

See, it is possible to simultaneously protect citizens from gun violence and respect their second amendment and due process rights.

I’d like to personally thank Morgan McGarvey, my State Senator, for submitting SB 244. Morgan and I have worked closely to gather feedback and tweak this bill to address concerns from both sides of the aisle.

We have an uphill battle with this law and we need your help!

Step One: Please find your Legislators by clicking here.

Step Two: Call your Legislators and say, “I’m with Whitney/Strong and I support SB 244.”

There is no time to wait! Thank you for your help.


Whitney Austin

Stop the Bleed and Why It Matters

When Waller and I began discussing what we could do to fight gun violence while in the hospital following the shooting, partnering to host Stop the Bleed sessions wasn’t even on our radar. We were solely focused on preventing more gun deaths.

Fast forward nearly 5 months, and that goal of reducing gun deaths, still stands paramount. In fact, when we release our strategic priorities in the coming month, our commitment to that goal will be evident. However, the value of this partnership is significant and after learning more about Stop the Bleed, it became an obvious first step for Whitney/Strong.

I was introduced to this program by UC Hospital during my second surgery following the shooting. As Trauma One Centers, both UC and UofL Hospitals are focused on injury prevention programs, one of which is Stop the Bleed. I was surprised to learn that the top three types of trauma in Cincinnati and Louisville are car accidents, gun violence, and falls. With Stop the Bleed, both hospitals provide free and empowering training that teaches laypeople how to stop bleeding caused by trauma and save lives.

I’ve had several “goosebump” moments since my introduction to this program.

  1. As soon as I moved from the revolving door to the flagpole on 9/6, a tourniquet was applied to my right arm. Lucky me! Not only did law enforcement pull me out of danger, but they knew the simple life-saving steps taught to them through Stop the Bleed.

  2. After participating in a training session last month, I learned you can only stop bleeding that occurs in extremities... think arms and legs. Lucky me! The majority of bullets hit my right arm - perfect for applying a tourniquet!

And one “heart drop” moment.

  1. Stop the Bleed originated after the heartbreaking Sandy Hook school shooting. One trauma surgeon found himself distraught learning the loss of life could have been reduced had first responders known the simple life-saving techniques.

Needless to say, this training is important to me. So, we will fight gun violence but first, let’s empower each other to save lives!

For more information and to register for the Louisville and Cincinnati workshops visit https://www.whitneystrong.org/workshops/

If you cannot attend due to schedule conflicts or a session is booked, please follow these instructions to request a free session for your employer, place of warship, school, community group, etc.

Cincinnati: Contact Regina Menninger at regina.menninger@uchealth.com

Louisville: Visit uoflhospital.org/Stop-Bleed 

Thank you,

Whitney Austin

Surgery Update

On Dr. Martin Luther King Junior Day I was scheduled for a tendon transfer, essentially moving my index finger tendon to my thumb. This move was necessary to fix my limp left thumb, an injury that wasn’t immediately obvious after the shooting.

One of the bullets entered and exited my left forearm, bruising my bone and leaving little room for my thumb tendon to thrive. Over time it ruptured but luckily for me, the nerve damage I had sustained masked the pain.

That same nerve pain has proved problematic in other ways, with even simple things like my children grabbing my forearm, leading to what feels like an electric current reverberating down my arm. Monday’s surgery ended up addressing both the limp thumb and my nerve damage.

I’ve undergone three surgeries at this point and every time the recovery is different. This time I am in a good amount of pain because of the nerve work. In fact, I will venture to say that nerve work is the most painful recovery yet. Still, I am encouraged to have a wonderful team of medical professionals surrounding me with great ideas and solutions for moving forward.

Once I’m up for it, I’ll get back to physical therapy on my right arm, physical therapy on my left hand, and then a bit of “wait and see” for the nerve pain in my left arm.

I am still filled with gratitude that I am here! While I am not perfect at relishing in my gratitude, I do have plenty of moments where I pinch myself thinking about the blessings of family and living a life of purpose through Whitney/Strong. Thank you to everyone for the support and prayers through this latest surgery.

I look forward to providing you with updates on Whitney/Strong again soon.

Fun fact: When repairing my nerve, the surgeon found a good amount of blue fiber in my arm. It must have come from my clutch that was retained as evidence by law-enforcement. When I received that clutch as a gift from my favorite make-up store in Chicago, Mojo Spa, I never imagined it would enter my body months later. So absurd.


The morning of September 6th

The morning of September 6, was a normal Thursday morning for me. I had just settled into my day at work when I got a phone call from my brother-in-law. It was 9:32 a.m. He doesn’t call me often, and I looked at the incoming call thinking it odd that he was calling me at this time. So I picked up.

Right when I answered, he said to me very calmly, “Sit down. I have some terrible news.”  In the nanosecond before he told me what the terrible news was, I immediately thought something happened to my parents – stroke, heart attack, maybe someone was in a car wreck? But never did I expect, “Whitney is in Cincinnati and has been shot multiple times in her chest.”

I can’t remember exactly what was said in the next few seconds. He mentioned he talked to her for a minute, that she was being taken to UC Medical, he didn’t know what happened, and he didn’t know the extent of her injuries. He had already talked to my parents and everyone was on their way to Cincinnati. He didn’t know much. My mind starting racing…to the worst case scenario of course.

What happened? I thought maybe she was mugged. I called my husband and told him what I knew and he immediately left work to come get me to make the drive to Cincinnati. My co-workers who heard me in hysterics, came into my office to try and console me. We tried to figure out what happened. I went to Cincinnati local news websites, and it was the top story. An active shooter at Fifth Third headquarters.

It was like an out of body experience watching the news. They talked of multiple fatalities. Was one of them Whitney? It had been 20 minutes since I talked to Waller. Could she have died since they talked? For whatever reason, I kept thinking of Princess Diana. I remember that she had spoken after her car wreck, and then still died. So knowing that Whitney had talked to Waller wasn’t very reassuring to me.

The next two hours were hell on earth. I went from extreme optimism about her being okay, to imagining her in emergency surgery and dying on the operating table. I thought how ironic it was that this was happening to her. She was passionate about gun safety for our children prior to this, and now she was a victim of a mass shooting.

Waller called as soon as he arrived…he was the first one there. She was going to be ok! The range of emotions I went through in those two hours, were the most extreme I’m sure I’ll ever experience. From utter despair to the purest joy on earth.

I am so happy that she is the one that is here and leading the charge for Whitney/Strong. And that we’re not doing it in her honor like the parents of Sandy Hook. We are the lucky ones who get to fight alongside Whitney. She is tenacious, smart, relentless, and the drive behind her is unparalleled to anything I have experienced. She is surrounding herself with people who share her passion and who will not stop until something changes. Her last three months have been spent pouring over data on guns, on conference calls with experts, meeting with legislatures that can help her platform, building her team, and occasionally taking care of herself while nursing her way back to health. She knows the road to change is long, and she’s in it for the long haul. She won’t lose steam, or rest until there is true change. The team at Whitney/Strong won’t either. And those of you who have joined us, I hope you won’t either.


Are You Discouraged with the Lack of Progress on Gun Violence?

I’ll start out with honesty. Yes, I am discouraged like so many of you, but maybe not for the same reasons. (And I promise this post won’t leave you depressed, so keep reading.)

My guess is that you are discouraged we continue to see mass shootings in our news feed on a weekly basis. Discouraged that politicians’ inflexibility has led to a stalemate. Discouraged with the lack of control you have over keeping your loved ones safe.

I feel all those things, but after 2.5 months of pouring over articles and research on gun violence, I am discouraged at a much deeper level.

The goal of Whitney/Strong is to reduce gun violence through responsible gun ownership. We will consider many solutions and champion those that are both, impactful and supported by the majority. However, as I dig deeper, it is proving to be very difficult to find the evidence necessary to conclude which solutions would be materially impactful. And as a result, discouragement starts to set in.

Quick history lesson....

While we shouldn’t blame the lack of evidence and data solely on the Dickey Amendment, it has certainly played a major role in the lack of federal research on gun violence. In case you are unfamiliar, here is a Cliff Notes version from Wikipedia:

In United States politics, the Dickey Amendment is a provision first inserted as a rider into the 1996 federal government omnibus spending bill which mandated that "none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may be used to advocate or promote gun control." In the same spending bill, Congress earmarked $2.6 million from the CDC's budget, the exact amount that had previously been allocated to the agency for firearms research the previous year, for traumatic brain injury-related research.

Many commentators have described this amendment as a "ban" on gun violence research by the CDC.

Lack of research is a massive problem. Here’s a hypothetical example to make it more digestible. Suppose the majority support a ban on the sale of assault rifles. These weapons are often tied to the deadliest mass shootings in our country’s history. But then imagine for a moment that a thorough research project was conducted by an unbiased research organization, and the study concluded that banning the sale of assault rifles would not reduce gun deaths. And why? Because the data confirms very few assault rifles used criminally are purchased legally. So while this is a hypothetical study, it helps articulate the need for robust and unbiased research so that we are not fighting blind.

All hope is not lost. First, and pulled directly from this article (https://www.rand.org/news/press/2018/05/31.html), the RAND Corporation has been selected to help oversee a philanthropic fund that will support high-quality research on issues related to gun violence. The National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research is a creation of the Houston-based Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), which has pledged $20 million to the effort and will seek an additional $30 million from other philanthropic groups. Over the next five years, research sponsored by the collaborative will seek data-driven answers on the causes and patterns of gun-related violence in the United States. Based on scientific evidence, the work will help policymakers craft evidence-based policies to reduce gun violence.

Second, and this is where I start to diverge from my product management roots. In business, I didn’t design products that only one person would use - it wasn’t efficient or profitable. With WhitneyStrong, any life that is saved because of the actions we take would be considered a success. Incremental change, aka baby steps, are what is needed in this hyper-partisan environment and I’m OK closing the gap slowly but surely.

So as we await the good stuff from our brilliant researcher friends over the next five years, let’s make a difference now! Let’s bootstrap whatever research and data we do have and start closing the gap.

So do not be discouraged. The quote below gave me motivation after an otherwise discouraging day. I hope it does the same for you.

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

Helen Keller

Give Thanks

In the spirit of mindfulness and gratitude, I wanted to share what I am thankful for this Thanksgiving. Believe it or not, even someone like me with thousands of things to be grateful for, needs to slow down and remember them a bit more. 

So here’s my list! I hope it inspires you to move a tad more slowly this Thanksgiving, to engage more deeply with those you love, and concentrate on what’s “right” in your life.

  1. I am grateful for the revolving door. I’m sure it sounds funny to be thankful for an inanimate object, but I am! That door served as a physical barrier between me and the many bullets, as well as inhibited the shooter’s precision.

  2. I am grateful the shooter used a 9mm handgun and not an assault weapon. Even after being shot twelve times I lived. Swap out the 9mm for an assault weapon and I would not have, along with many more.

  3. I am thankful for Police Officer Al Staples! As soon as Al entered my vantage point I started to fight again. I believed I had a solution for getting out of this mess and home to my family. He gave me hope when I thought there was none.

  4. I am thankful for Police Officers Jennifer Chilton, Eric Kaminsky, Greg Toyeas, and Tony Etter. Do you realize this team of four had never partnered together before? On that day their muscle memory kicked in and they worked bravely to eliminate the danger. I am alive because of this team.

  5. I am thankful the police department had recently completed active shooting and “Stop the Bleed” training. Trainings like these can save lives and I benefitted because of them. Instead of waiting for paramedics to take action, I was lucky to have first responders on the scene apply tourniquets immediately.

  6. I am grateful I was shot twelve times and no bullet hit a major artery or organ. How did I get so lucky?

  7. I am grateful for Mark Erhardt and Ben Hoffman, my previous boss and current boss, respectively. They, along with a few other peers, like Jeff Schroeder and Kimberly Brown, came to the hospital to offer positive energy and prayers until my family could arrive from Louisville.

  8. I am grateful for the amazing team of doctors, nurses, and medical staff at UC Medical Center that collectively saved my life! From nurses like Robbie Thomas to surgeons like Drs. Michael Goodman and John Wyrick, I ended up at a Trauma 1 Center with, sadly, plenty of experience in gun violence injuries.

  9. I am grateful for everyone who supported my family through meals, play dates, care packages, and visits. It is extremely humbling to see your village and extended village, and by extended I mean friends I haven’t talked to in over 10+ years, come out of the woodwork to lend a helping hand. And even acts of kindness from strangers. It brings me to tears to think about how kind the world can be. Thank you.

  10. I am grateful for family! From my aunts and uncles who brought me meals, to cousins who helped get our home in working condition after just moving in, to my mother-in-law who chauffeured me endlessly on little sleep, to my brother and sister-in-laws who sent care packages, to my aunt in North Carolina who flew in to support Waller’s show, to my cousin who waited on me hand and foot for three straight weeks. I am so thankful for your love and support.

  11. I am grateful for my friends. I can’t begin to name names but you know who you are. You flew or drove in at a moment’s notice. You built my website. You cared for my children. You unpacked my home. You made me laugh. I could go on forever. I will be paying it forward for a lifetime.

  12. I am grateful I get to be a sister and that Megan is my sister. Our bond is unbreakable and I wish for everyone to have a best friend like her. And that village I mentioned earlier, she led that village.

  13. I am grateful I get to be a daughter. My mother and father’s love is unrelenting. My father spent hours recreating photographs of the scene as a thank you gift to the police officers that saved my life. My mother worked herself so hard taking care of me and my children that she fell off my porch and broke her hip one night when watching them. Now it is time for me to take care of her! I am a lucky girl to have their love.

  14. I am grateful I get to be a mother. That I get to cuddle my son and daughter. That I get to dance with them. That I get to shape their minds and hearts. This is why I fought to live and to get my reward... I need nothing else in life.

  15. I am grateful I get to be a wife. To hold each other up when the other is too weak to move forward. To provide unconditional support as we learn to put one foot in front of another. I love you so much, Waller Austin.

  16. I am grateful for my faith. I will never completely understand it, but the peace it brings is healing.

  17. Lastly, I am grateful for my scars. Scars that will remind me daily that I can never forget what happened to me and that propel me to take action. Whitney/Strong has been the biggest blessing to me and I vow to make a difference for all of us.

Another One and What We’re Doing About It

I, like many of you, awoke to the news of another mass shooting last Thursday morning. This time in Thousand Oaks, CA. The victims were largely college students, likely trying to blow off steam at the weekly country western night. Some were students at Pepperdine, the school my brother and sister-in-law attended.

My heart breaks for the victim’s families and friends. For the survivors who will be forced into the same ridiculous club I’ve joined. My prayer list just keeps growing.

Before it happened to me, my emotions after a shooting cycled pretty consistently from despair to anger to complacency.  I found myself in that cycle two weeks ago as I returned to Louisville from my second surgery in Cincinnati, only to hear the news of a shooting at a Kroger where I used to work, in which two innocent people died.  My customers shopped there. I ruminated on the shooting. Had nightmares. Couldn’t get it off my mind. Mourned for the victims. And finally, I decided much of it wasn’t productive. I told myself, “You have a chance to be productive. You can make a difference. Get back to work.” If your emotions follow that same cycle, try transitioning to action instead of complacency.

Many of you feel the same way and I know you have put your faith in me to make a difference with gun violence.  While establishing a non-profit can take time, especially when the executive director is recovering from multiple bullet wounds and surgeries, we are certainly making progress.  Let me share some of it with you.

First and foremost, we are in the midst of building the team.  I will share bios over the coming weeks but we’ve filled the director roles for internet security, firearm education, marketing, mental health, market research, operations, and political partnerships.

I’m also working on the strategic plan and while it is not yet ready for circulation, I can share we are focused on placing a spotlight on the deficiencies riddled throughout our mental health infrastructure, as well as gun laws across the United States. A spotlight that will drive change and ultimately lead to a reduction in gun violence.

I understand the feeling of helplessness and the desire to do something.  Much of what we are looking to accomplish will take time, which is why I’m also focused on giving you opportunities to plug into activities that can make an impact quickly. I hope to share those opportunities with you very soon!

As we’ve all witnessed, due to political discourse, there’s a small window for success in this space.  I will continue to work on thoughtful solutions that give us the best chance for success and will share when ready.  Thank you for being patient and I look forward to engaging you soon!

My Hero

Alphonso Staples, otherwise known as Al, was the single most influential person I encountered on September 6, 2018. I’ve spoken very publicly about this man and I want you to know what he means to me. In a world filled with gun violence and times of despair, it is equally important to look for the good. And that’s Al, as good as it gets.

While I spent only a few minutes in that revolving door, my time there was divided into BA (Before Al) and AA (After Al). During the BA period my mind was consumed with despair. I had played through all the scenarios for survival and none seemed realistic. I had transitioned to defeat and started my final prayer with God. Then I saw Al.

From the moment I saw his frightened yet kind face, I knew I was back in business. I can only speak to my trauma, but finding a solution when you believe none exists, is exhilarating. My adrenaline started pumping and I shifted into survival mode.

I could see the fear in Al’s eyes as he took in the full picture of that morning. But I didn’t draw fear from him, I drew strength. Immediately I started to call for him, “I’ve got a 5 and a 7 year old that need their mother. Come save me!”

Al couldn’t save me immediately, which seemed confusing and frustrating at the time, but I’ve since learned about active shooter protocol and the importance of stopping the immediate danger first. And while it felt like eternity to me, only minutes passed before Al was on his feet and running to my rescue as he pulled me out of that revolving door.

I want to thank Al for being my source of strength and hope at the exact right time. I want to thank Al for the kindness and love he conveyed to me through his eyes and actions in that terrible moment. I want to thank him for thinking so quickly to get my husband on the phone and for conveying the awful news and next steps. I want to thank him and all of the other wonderful police officers for their service to me and other Cincinnatians on that day and every day.

There are a lot of humbling nouns and adjectives being used in conjunction with my name, hero being one of them. I can understand the thought process, but I reserve that word for all of the officers that saved my life on that day, particularly Al. These officers knowingly step into danger on a far more regular basis than any of us - me included! To knowingly face danger to save the lives of others is heroic. To fight to save your own life seems to pale in comparison, but maybe that is just me.

I’ve just finished up another surgery to place a bone graft in my right humerus. Luckily, Al was able to visit me in the hospital. We’ve talked nearly every week, but this was our first face-to-face since the shooting. I was also blessed to meet and listen to his sextet that he has participated in through his church for over 20 years!

Al is the kind of man that makes you feel safe instantly. His warm presence makes for easy conversation and the joy he is exudes is radiating. He is at peace with himself and his place in this world, and every bit of that has rubbed off on me. I pinch myself that my hero, the man I will be connected to for life, is such an exemplary human being!

The pictures and videos below are from our visit in the hospital. His wife and the members of the sextet were just as warm and welcoming. We are all blessed. Thank you, Al.