My journey to becoming a Second Amendment advocate is a journey I never thought I’d take. In the fall of 2016, I was living the life I’d always dreamed of. I was just months away from graduating from college. My parents never went to college, and I was beyond excited to walk across the stage and accept the college degree I’d worked so hard for. 

Temple University was my dream school. I loved nearly everything about the University, from its working-class roots to its North Philadelphia campus. I loved my church, my friends, and my job. I was active on campus, and during my junior year I won Temple University’s Diamond Award, the highest recognition from Student Affairs for leadership, service, and academic achievement. 

One night, however, it all came crashing down. 

What started out as any normal day ended up becoming the worst day of my life. A man I’d been casually dating came to my apartment for what was supposed to be a movie and a beer. 

Instead, he raped me. 

I felt like I was holding my entire life in my hands and was watching it crumble. Trying to hold it all together only made things fall apart more. All my hard work felt like it’d been thrown away. 

Due to the trauma, I dropped out of college during my senior year and moved back home to Virginia. I kept my assault a secret for as long as I could, but the secret soon began to eat away at me. One day, I couldn’t keep it the secret any longer, and disclosed the rape to my Women’s Group at church. There I found the support I so desperately needed. I found the strength to tell my immediate family and closest friends. 

I found myself enraged about the fact that I’d been shooting since elementary school, but various laws prevented me from having my firearm with me at school. While I could have technically had it in my off-campus apartment, I couldn’t bring it with me to campus or any of the places I normally went. Break-ins were common in North Philadelphia, and I wasn’t comfortable leaving a gun in my first-floor apartment all day. 

I desperately wanted to scream “I told you so!” on the top of my lungs but wasn’t sure how to go about telling my story in a way that would invite conversation. 

One thing I did know, however, was that I was tired of keeping the secret. 

I was tired of people asking me why I dropped out of Temple. 

I was tired of being vilified in the media because my opinion was unpopular amongst fellow college students.   

More than anything, I was tired of the anti-gunners leading the public debate on firearms. 

My dear friend, Matthew, encouraged me to put pen to paper in the fall of 2017. I sat down at my kitchen table, and word-vomited my pent-up frustrations into a Google Doc. That op/ed was published in The Washington Examiner the next day. I had never felt so free. I finally got my voice back. 

I knew I wanted my #MeToo story to encourage women to consider their means of self-defense. As much as I wish teaching people about consent was enough to prevent rape, my assault shows that for some people, that’s not enough. I had a rape whistle on my keys, but when I blew the whistle, no one came. 

After my first op/ed, I continued to write. Soon, I was invited to tell my story on various news outlets including CNN and NRA TV

One day in February 2019, I was doing homework and I received a call from a Washington D.C. area code. I didn’t recognize the number, but I answered it. On the other end of the phone was the Chief Counsel of the House Judiciary Committee, inviting me to testify at the following week’s hearing on H.R. 8 - The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. I was nervous, but I agreed. 

A few days later, I stood in front of the committee and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God. I told them about my assault, growing up with guns, and how my gun could have saved me. 

The experience was both nerve wracking and surreal, but I was thankful for the opportunity to share my story. I’d once been so full of shame, but I was learning to use my experience to bring more attention to both sexual violence and the importance of responsible gun ownership. 

Last Sunday I featured on the front page of The Philadelphia Inquirer, where they explained my support of concealed carry and why my sexual assault lead me to become a passionate advocate for the right to bear arms. 

I pray none of you have ever gone through what I did, but I want every single one of you to know that you have opportunity to change public opinion on firearms -- one person at a time. If you have friends that fear guns, invite them to the range with you. Offer to teach them gun safety with an unloaded firearm or teach them how to field-strip a handgun. It’s easy to be scared of the things you don’t understand, and when it comes to firearms and firearm safety, a firm grasp on how to safely operate the gun is imperative. 

When debating gun policy, it’s easy to get angry. Safety and self-defense are important topics that many people take personally. Remember that the person on the other side of the aisle is a human being. Kindness goes a long way toward getting people to at least listen. 

I advocate for female gun ownership because I never want another woman to go through what I did. Sexual violence is an epidemic, especially on college campuses where 23.1 percent of female undergraduates are victims of sexual assault during their academic tenure. 

For years, my beliefs about gun ownership were rooted in the hypothetical, but my assault showed me that there are real stories with real people where firearms could have saved them.

-Savannah, Virginia

Twitter/IG @savannahmaesays


Note: If you’ve experienced sexual trauma, you’re not alone. You’re always welcome to message me through social media (DMs are confidential) or you can reach out to the RAINN Sexual Assault Hotline by phone at 800.656.4673 or online at https://hotline.rainn.org/online.