The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo - Amy Schumer (2016)
MAYCI AND JILLIAN
It was July 23, 2015, and Trainwreck had been out for about a week. I was so happy to be home, having just landed in Los Angeles after spending the aforementioned week doing very tiring press for the movie, this time in Australia. It was especially sweet to be home since that trip had not been too uplifting. I was supposed to go out to dinner with my friend Allan that night. He’s one of my very good friends, though I don’t know if his name is spelled Alan or Allan. I also have major questions about how to spell his last name.
I was jet-lagged and having some hard-core back pain from all the travel, so I booked a massage. I walked out of the hotel spa feeling great—generally excited about life, fortunate, and rejuvenated. I looked at my cell phone and had a lot of missed calls from my publicist, Carrie, who’d also sent me many texts telling me to call her right away. I started giggling. If she was trying to contact me that urgently, I was certain that a naked photo or a sex tape of me must have gotten out. I had sex with my boyfriend on a computer camera once when I was twenty and it was totally awful. We were in no way focused on each other. We were looking at ourselves on the monitor. I’d bought black lacy lingerie with a garter belt. I didn’t understand that you have to be a Victoria’s Secret model to not look insane in a getup like that. A still of Rupert Murdoch in a rocking chair would have looked sexier than I did in that outfit. All in all, it was a horrible sight and I apologize in advance for that sex tape in case it ever does get out. I have major, major sympathy for anyone whose phone or computer has ever been hacked, and I really hope it never happens to me. But nude photos don’t scare me. I’m sure they will leak someday, and I don’t know how I’ll feel then—but on this particular day at this particular moment in my life, I think I’d laugh if it happened. And apologize to all who had to see the footage or shots.
So on July 23, 2015, I was preparing myself for news of my sex tape leaking and was gearing up to calm down my publicist and let her know I didn’t care. I dialed Carrie and I was already smiling. My giggling had become a full laugh by the time she answered.
Then she said, “There was a shooting in a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, at a showing of Trainwreck.”
My heart broke right then and there. I mean it. The only other times I felt sadness that heavy in my life were after a surfing accident when I was sure I was losing my leg, and upon hearing of the deaths of a couple of close friends. The news crushed me. I went to my hotel room, turned on CNN, and became almost catatonic. I didn’t yet know that two beautiful, smart, strong women would die that night. I didn’t know about Mayci Breaux, who was just twenty-one years old and a sweet, kind, gorgeous churchgoing girl who was set to marry her high school sweetheart. And I didn’t know about Jillian Johnson. She was just thirty-three years old and an active member in her community. A great wife and stepmother, she was a smart and creative business owner, a musician, and a beautiful artist. I needed to know every detail, and I wanted to fly straight to Louisiana to be with the families who were affected by this tragedy.
My friend Allen came over to my hotel room and let me put my head on his lap while I cried. He called the necessary people and took care of me. I was pretty out of it for a couple weeks. I had more press to do for Trainwreckand a vacation planned with friends, but I wanted to cancel everything.
I read about the disturbed man who killed Mayci and Jillian and injured nine other people. I don’t believe in giving mass shooters their moment in the sun. I don’t want to write his name. I never have and never will say it. But I do want to outline some facts about him. He loved the Tea Party. He publicly hated women and praised Hitler. This man purposefully selected my movie as a place to shoot and kill women.
Here are a few other facts: In 2006, he was arrested for arson (and was denied a concealed weapons permit in Russell County, Alabama, as a result), though the arson charges were eventually dropped. In 2008, his family members asked a court to involuntarily commit him for mental health treatment because he was a danger to himself and others, but he was only committed on an emergency basis and never reached the stage of having a judge rule on his mental competence. Also in 2008, his former intimate partner filed a protective order against him—but no final order was issued by the court. Despite all that, in February 2014 he was able to legally buy a gun in a Phenix City, Alabama, pawn shop—the gun that would become his murder weapon.
He was not prohibited from having guns, but he was precisely the type of person who should be barred—a person with a dangerous criminal history who abused and threatened family members, and who had contacts with the mental health system. Several states have passed laws often referred to as “gun violence restraining orders,” which allow family members of these types of dangerous people to ask a court to temporarily prohibit the person from having guns. If granted, not only do these orders prohibit the person from buying a gun, but they also require the person to turn in the guns they already own. Had this tool been available to this man’s family members when he threatened them, maybe everything would have turned out differently for Mayci and Jillian.
Knowing this is unbearable. Knowing this is enough to make me want to do something.
And yet, gun-violence restraining orders are just the tip of the iceberg. Because even if every single state had more laws like this in place to keep guns out of dangerous hands, there’s still a gaping loophole that makes it easy for anyone to buy guns through unlicensed sellers, perhaps at gun shows or online—because for those sales, there are no background checks and no questions asked. Surveys conducted over three decades consistently show that 30 to 40 percent of US gun transfers take place without a background check. In many states getting a gun is easier than getting birth control. Read on. It gets even better (worse). In several states in this country, it’s legal to buy a gun if you’re completely blind, and in most states it’s legal to buy a gun if you’re on one of the terror watch lists. I’m going to tell you that again. If you can’t see anything at all, you can buy a gun. If you’re on not just the “no fly” list but literally the list of people our government suspects are terrorists, you can Legally. Buy. A. Gun.
Don’t get it twisted. I’m great friends with plenty of gun owners. I believe law-abiding Americans have every right to own a gun. But I think there is room for improvement. Don’t you? Haven’t enough shootings happened? You know who says no? The people who profit the most from gun sales. But 92 percent of Americans—including 82 percent of gun owners and 74 percent of NRA members—support criminal background checks for all gun sales. Yet the gun lobby opposes this most commonsense of policies. And their lapdogs in Congress—whom they’ve bought and paid for—fall in lockstep behind them. As you may have noticed by now, there are a lot of lists in this book. I’ve included another one at the end of the book on pages 322–323—it’s a list of congresspeople who’ve taken money from and been influenced by the gun lobby. Enjoy!
It was especially striking to me to learn that gun violence is specifically a women’s issue: women in America are eleven times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other developed nations. In the eighteen states that require background checks for all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot and killed by intimate partners than in the states that do not.
Do you know much about all of this? Before the Lafayette shooting, I didn’t. You owe it to yourself and your family to be educated about it, because it’s a problem we can chip away at, together. For more details on how to get involved, see page 321.
As I’ve documented in this book, I’ve mostly been able to find the humor in the absolute darkest moments. It’s hard to do that with this, though. I know that for many of you, this might not be a chapter you signed up for and you may be thinking, Get back to telling your vagina jokes! Make us laugh, clown! I hear you. When I’ve written sketches about gun safety on my TV show, people have responded by saying they wish I’d just be funny. They tell me to stick to comedy because that’s what they come to me for. I’ll tell you what I tell them: No! I love making people laugh and am grateful that I’m equipped to do that. But when an injustice affects me deeply, I will speak about it—and I suggest you do the same. I wish I could muster the energy to put a clever and sarcastic spin on some of the grave statistics about gun violence in America, but I have to tell you, I just fucking can’t. I was able to write a funny scene about gun safety on my TV show this year, and if you want to laugh along, please watch, but for this chapter in my book . . . I’m not laughing. I think about Mayci and Jillian every day. I carry pictures of them on the road with me, and when I see that yet another American or several Americans were killed senselessly and avoidably by guns, all I can think is enough is e-fucking-nough. Period.
I began working with Senator Chuck Schumer, a distant cousin of my father’s, to advocate for sensible ways to stop gun violence. I sit on a committee for Everytown—a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities. As I was drafting this chapter, no lie, I got an invitation to the White House to meet President Obama and was there when he announced a set of new executive actions to address this national crisis.
The White House allowed me to bring a few guests, so I brought my sister, my brother, and Ben. There are few people I’d drop everything and fly across the country for on such little notice. President Obama is one of them. Common and Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black are two others. What I’m saying is, it was thrilling to get to be there. We were joined by the rapper Wale and two guys from the Washington Wizards basketball team who are advocates to end gun violence. I was hanging out with them for most of the visit.
When it was time for the president to come into the room to meet us, we formed a receiving line. I straightened the Wizards’ ties and belts and then saw that I had some dirt on my leg, so I quickly licked my finger and rubbed it off because I’m as elegant as I am hygienic. We were all transformed into little kids helping each other on picture day. As we neared the president, we were asked to write our name and occupation on a fancy little card and hand it to a stoic naval officer so he could announce us to the president before we shook his hand. When it was my turn, the officer looked at what I’d written on my card and, without missing a beat, announced with military precision, “Amy Schumer. She is a model!”
I stepped forward, and President Barack Obama smiled at me. We shook hands, and he spoke first:
“You’re very funny, Amy Schumer.” He sounded just like he sounds on TV.
“So are you.”
“We really enjoyed Trainwreck,” he said.
I said, “You saw Trainwreck?!!!”
He nodded and said, “Of course.”
I couldn’t believe it. He was so cool. He was keeping the conversation going with me and I didn’t want to take any more of his time so I rushed our picture together. I was losing my mind in the picture, so moved and thrilled. He thanked me for my work trying to end gun violence, and I thanked him back and walked into the room where the press conference would take place.
A bit later, the president faced the cameras, standing in front of the parents of children whose lives were taken by gun violence—many from the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He delivered the most eloquent, honest speech I will ever hear. He talked about the first graders who were killed. He repeated the words—“first graders”—and shed a few tears. I could see them. He wiped away the ones on his left side but not the right. After a few beats, he wiped both eyes. He spoke about how it was all too easy to get firearms on the Internet or at gun shows without a background check. Then he outlined the plan to fix that and much more.
When the press conference was over, I stood in the room for a while and was approached by people wearing buttons with the pictures of their slain children on them. Parents, wearing their dead children on their lapels. They just wanted to tell me about their kids. Some had lost their kids in Columbine. A nice couple whose daughter was killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting told me she had been a fan of mine. I listened and hugged them and promised I would keep fighting with them.
During the entire day at the White House, I was thinking of Mayci and Jillian. I’d been holding back tears for hours but when the president mentioned the shooting in Lafayette at the press conference, I couldn’t stop myself from crying. Those women will always be in my thoughts. I will not forget them. I’ll work hard every day to honor their memory and live in a way I hope would make them proud.
In the months since the White House, I’ve said many things about guns onstage or aired those gun-related scenes on my TV show. I’m always immediately hit with criticism from people on the Internet. That’s putting it very lightly. Many of them feel incensed about the idea of the government wanting to “take away [their] guns,” which is not at all what I’m advocating for. What most people in this movement care about is ending gun violence and making our communities safer. People rage at me on Twitter (and this is actually one of the nicest, most sanitized kinds of insults I get): “You’re out of your league, Schumer! Stick to what you know!” Of course most of them call me a fat cunt, which I have grown to love.
But they are wrong (not about my being a fat cunt; that’s subjective). They are wrong to say that I’m out of my league. Because I do know this issue. And you do too. Anyone who lives and breathes and has an opinion about whether or not first graders should get shot at school is qualified to speak on this issue. I’m not a politician nor an NRA-hating shifty Jew, as some people see me in certain parts of the country. Most members of the NRA are great people. But their leaders are the cuckoo birds. I’m just an American who thinks we can have more common sense about keeping our families, children, and friends from being shot to death by an unstable person who never should have been able to get his hands on a gun in the first place.
I want to thank Jason Rzepka and Noelle Howey at Everytown for helping educate me about gun violence statistics and gun laws. I also want to thank the families of Mayci Breaux and Jillian Johnson for providing these photos and allowing me to honor the memories of Mayci and Jillian.