Massive whale sharks, vibrant fish and captivating stingrays glided through the blue Georgia Aquarium waters, creating a living backdrop for this year’s NRA Women’s Leadership Forum during the Annual Meeting and Exhibits last week in Atlanta. While the venue was truly jaw-dropping, it wasn’t the aquatic life filling the space with energy. The beaming smiles, warm greetings, and genuine laughter of friends coming from all directions rang out and filled me with a fond nostalgia—one I’d felt a year earlier at this very same gathering.
That event, the 2016 NRA Annual Meeting in Louisville, Ky., was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I hadn’t a clue what to expect of my first WLF attendance, but it was unforgettable for many reason. That first event was a sunny, May morning, and I sat at a table of women I’d never met during the luncheon. They were welcoming and friendly, yet I scanned the crowd looking for familiar faces. I spotted Karen Butler, owner of Shoot Like a Girl and a friend I’d made at the beginning of the year when she and I both attended the CNN town hall “Guns in America” with then-President Barack Obama. She waved me over, and I gratefully accepted the seat, quickly catching up as the program began.
I had been invited to attend the luncheon to be recognized by Susan LaPierre. When she introduced me and played my clip from the town hall, the audience of fellow women listened intently as I disclosed my own rape to the president of the United States in front of the entire world, and then applauded as I transitioned into my question challenging his executive orders on gun control.
I have never spoken out for applause, praise or notoriety. I released my name in 2007 and spent the last decade with a simple mission—I wanted to help at least one person not have to endure my same experience of assault.
Susan graciously had me stand and be recognized, so I awkwardly waved (honestly, most everything I do is awkward) before hurriedly taking my seat amidst the humbling applause.
My cheeks were still flush from the attention and my own internal dialogue, “don’t trip, don’t trip,” when I was approached by a red-headed woman in her early twenties. Her eager smile and dimples preceded what I could already appreciate as a bubbly personality. She knelt down next to my chair, and, in a hushed voice as not to interrupt the ongoing program, introduced herself to me. “I saw you speak out against President Obama and it really made an impact on me. I started diligently carrying the very next day.” – Kristi McMains
“Hi! My name is Kristi McMains and I just really wanted to meet you!”
Her elation was contagious, and I excitedly shook her hand introducing myself as well. Had I known what was coming next, I may have not been able to choke out those words.
She continued, “I saw you speak out against President Obama and it really made an impact on me. I started diligently carrying the very next day.”
“Oh, that’s awesome!” I replied, thrilled to have met another young concealed firearm carrier.
“Yeah, and it was just in time because on Jan. 26, right here in Louisville, I was attacked in my work parking garage by a man with a knife who tried to kill me.”
I felt the blood drain from my face, fearing what was coming next.
“But I was carrying.”
“And I shot him.”
The audible gasp I took drew the immediate attention of my tablemates and some of the other women around us.
“I just wanted to meet you and to thank you because if I hadn’t heard your story, I might not have been carrying that night. You really did help save my life.”
I instantly grasped Kristi in an embrace, which is something I rarely do, and we both started what I can only describe as “ugly crying.”
Now, I’m not a gal who likes to “feel the feels,” but it was in that moment, surrounded by female peers, that I realized my own self-defense advocacy journey had come full circle. Here, sitting directly in front of me, was a living, breathing human being who saved her own life. Not all heroes wear capes—Kristi just wore a peach blazer.
We immediately bonded over our shared traumas, having both stared evil in the face as it threatened to take our lives. That bond may have united us initially, but we texted constantly and got to know each other not just as survivors, but as true friends with a shared sense of sarcasm, sass and plentiful movie quotes. While I would love to say our conversations have been nothing but flowers, unicorns and pixie dust, we know all too well the role severe trauma can play in a crime victim’s day-to-day life.
Kristi’s journey to survivor hood was still in its infancy. Though she had previously obtained her concealed-carry permit and had her firearm since she was 18 years old, the assault had taken its toll on her—both physically and emotionally. From reconstructive surgery necessary from having been tackled and having her hip violently hyperextended, to having to enter daily therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), there were many things I knew I couldn’t do for her—I would only be able to support her. I just kept repeating my own mantra to her: It would not get easier, but she would get stronger. And she certainly has.
In February, we found another kindred spirit in Ashlee Lundvall—a paraplegic hunter, fisher, motivational speaker, and all around bad mama-jamma. We were all individually selected and participated together on a CPAC panel called “Armed and Fabulous.” We thought of this as Kristi’s big debut, since she had never spoken in front of an audience before. Ashlee brought a seasoned speaking perspective to our conversations and a sense of humor that was right in line with ours.
When we all took the stage and Kristi began speaking, I was in awe of her courage and poise. Her survival instincts and resilience were unlike anything I’d seen, especially having only suffered this life-altering trauma a few months prior. Her attacker’s trial still pending, Kristi had already filmed a nationally aired, election-swinging commercial supporting Donald Trump; interacted with her state and local representatives; sought help when she needed it most; and then bravely told her story to the CPAC crowd with grace, humor and sobering detail.
Fast forward to NRA’s Annual Meeting in Atlanta, where Kristi and I attended the luncheon (and every other event) together. We reflected on how far both of us had come in the year since we met, jokingly referring to the WLF luncheon at the aquarium as our “anniversary.” This is typically where Ashlee adds a comment about needing to register. Hey, at least we think we’re funny.
We took shameless selfies in front of the fish tank, I sang them (poorly) the theme song from “Moana,” and we truly enjoyed the moment knowing there is still so much to come.
While the role I played in Kristi’s actual survival that night in the parking garage was likely very small, it demonstrates how important sharing our stories can be. When I asked Kristi what help she’d received that impacted her most over the course of the last year, she said: “No one else in my life could understand the ups and downs of internal struggles after having to fight for your life. Although I survived my attack, I continue to fight a much bigger battle in healing physically, mentally and spiritually. Because of NRA Women, I was connected to you, who helped me realize that it is okay to not feel as though I'm thriving every day. I’ve been able to meet other women who understand the gravity of needing to carry a weapon solely for the means of personal protection.” “Whenever I carry my firearm, I'm reminded that I can change the tides and make myself into a victor should the need arise.” – Kristi McMains
When Kristi speaks about those who are vocally, and sometimes threateningly, opposed to her use of force when she was out of all other options, she responds powerfully yet succinctly. “Whenever I carry my firearm, I'm reminded that I can change the tides and make myself into a victor should the need arise. As a woman, I am automatically pegged as a soft target—a victim—based upon my gender, the fact that I'm only 5'3”, and that statistically speaking, I’m likely not armed. But I am not a soft target. I am capable of, and will, defend myself.”
As she returns home from Atlanta after this year’s NRA meeting, she settles back in as a medical malpractice lawyer in Indiana. Her love of the law and passion to see the U.S. Supreme Court’s adherence to the United States Constitution has helped shape her view of the world, but keeps personal responsibility in the forefront. She aspires to serve in the White House and continue influencing changes that protect our freedoms. And in my very humble opinion as not only a friend, but a fellow advocate, her passion ensures she can and will do anything she sets her mind to.
This week, Kristi sent Ashlee and me a video of her adorable, curly-haired niece obliterating her second birthday cake. Her family joyously laughed and cheered on the birthday girl as her proud aunt snapped countless photos.
In an overflowing moment of childlike abandon and happiness, Kristi’s gratitude was inescapable.
“Without my firearm, I wouldn't be here to laugh with my friends or love on my family—I wouldn't be alive—all because someone singled me out in a crowd to take my life.
“I love life. And that’s always worth defending.”
Kimberly is a mother, survivor and passionate self-defense advocate. In the last decade, she has become a nationally renowned voice for victims through her presentations, commentary and writing. You can learn more about Kimberly and request her to speak through her website at kimberlycorban.com.