Longform

Jennifer Longdon Wears Her Heart on Her Facebook Page

"Now I remember why I don't like shooting," Jennifer Longdon says, holding out her fingers to examine the chips in her bright red nail polish.

The Peoria Shooter's World is humming on a cloudy Monday afternoon in February. Plenty of people are here today — men, women, a kid with his dad, a lot of senior citizens.

And Longdon, who stands out because she's sitting down.

She hasn't fired a gun in more than eight years, not since a bullet hit her spine, collapsed her lungs, shattered her ribs, and ricocheted around her internal organs, ultimately leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

Longdon learned to shoot as a little girl, and once owned handguns, but a while back, she got rid of the .45-caliber Glock that made it a little too easy to make the thought of suicide a reality.

These days, she uses a sleek brown Doberman named Pearl for protection and testifies for gun control at the Arizona Legislature, but she's just been accepted to the Phoenix Police Department's Citizen Police Academy and she knows she'll be asked to fire a weapon. She also knows she's out of practice. More than that, she's terrified she'll fall apart the first time she pulls the trigger.

When she called Shooter's World and explained her situation, she was looking for someone who specializes in post-traumatic stress syndrome; instead, her instructor today is better-versed in mobility challenges than the ones that go on above the shoulders. But he's kind and steady, leading her past a packed house in the indoor shooting range to a separate, empty area, where she attempts her second round of rounds.

He presses a button and — whoosh — a target swings down from nowhere and snaps into place, like the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland.

Longdon fires the rented 9 millimeter three times, then stops. "Can I hold your hand for a second?" she asks the instructor.

Five more rounds and she's done, eager to examine the target. Not bad for her first time back. She pays $70 for the privilege and, shaking, rolls out to the parking lot.

Even though she technically doesn't have feeling there anymore, the long-healed wound in her back burned hard with phantom pain the first time she fired the gun, she says, admitting that she watched the others on the range with their weapons and wondered, "Is someone in there going to shoot me in the back?"

"Fear isn't a reason not to do things," she says, angry that she'll have to repaint her nails but clearly proud of herself.

Longdon flips a switch, and the door of her old van opens and a lift unfolds, and with a little push, she's inside and sliding herself into the driver's seat. Late that night, she'll update her Facebook status:

What a day. Did one of the hardest things I've ever done EVER.


Jennifer Longdon wears her heart on her Facebook page.

In the years since she and her fiancé were nearly killed in what she says she must believe was a random act of violence (the case remains unsolved), Longdon has advocated for the rights of people with disabilities on city, state, and national platforms. She testifies before governmental bodies, chairs committees, and blogs for the foundation created by late actor and activist Christopher Reeve and his family (www.paralysis.org).

But arguably, her most effective platform is the most ubiquitous: Facebook. What began as a Scrabble obsession in 2007 or '08 (she doesn't recall exactly when she signed on) has become — as it is for many — all-consuming.

Indeed, following Jennifer Longdon on Facebook can be all-consuming.

In an age when the shelves of the bookstores that are left are crammed with tomes about how to use social media effectively, all you need to do is friend Longdon (and hope she'll accept your request — she's picky) to see how to do it right.

Longdon posts regularly about get-out-the-vote efforts and legislative actions, and she's quick to call out an elected official for failing to support her cause. (For example, she was all over President Barack Obama for failing to mention people with disabilities in his most recent State of the Union speech.)

To be honest, she gets more than a little preachy at times.

But she's preaching beyond the choir — past the near-empty audiences for gatherings like disability rights commission meetings, taking her place in crowded news feeds — and people are listening. They also un-friend her on occasion, she says with a smile and a shrug.

It's not the GOTV reminders that are so compelling. Jennifer Longdon is posting about her day-to-day life in such an honest way that you can't help but understand, watching her status updates, why all this stuff is important.

She writes about the restaurants she can't access, the emergency room visits that are a near-weekly occurrence, so many broken bones she's lost count, and how it's not easy to run out to the store for limes for margaritas when you've got a spinal-cord injury.

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at amy-silverman.com.