Growing Up in the Age of Gun Violence
The first time that I remember a mass shooting as a kid was when I was 3. Most people will never forget The Columbine High School Massacre on April 20th, 1999. Although I was very young and didn’t really understand what was happening I somehow remember the shock and horror around me. It was as if my brain was preparing me for something. It was the first time that I remember I could be shot anywhere. The next shooting I remember was one that hit home. I was 11 and there was a shooting at the Seattle Jewish Federation on July 28, 2006. My family had lost someone to a mass shooting in our own very neighborhood. I remember my mother’s tears and my communities despair. I remember how everything changed. Security guards started monitoring my Sunday school and my Synagogue had tighter security. It was the first time in my life that I understood that a person could hated me so much that they wanted to kill me just because I was Jewish. As a young adult I remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on December 14th, 2012. I was 17 and I watched President Obama’s speech in a public library sobbing at the atrocity that had just happened. It was the first time that I realized everyone was at risk, even small children. “Since then there have been at least 1,552 mass shootings, with at least 1,767 people killed and 6,227 wounded,” according to a recent Vox article. There have been 1,552 mass shootings in as little as 5 years, one essentially everyday. For kids today this is our reality, and now we have become numb.
For example, 2 days ago and white terrorist walked into a Southern Baptist Church in Texas and opened fire. He killed 26 people, and injured many more. When this happened we all got the news alerts and text updates. I was sitting in my living room watching tv with some roommates. I looked at my phone read the news headline out loud. My roommates looked up said “I know” then we all put our phones back down and continued on. It was as if I had told them the weather, or what the time was. No one responded in tears or even any visible signs of emotions. What I said didn’t interrupt our lives in anyway. We just carried on. We aren’t monsters for doing this, and the reality is I know many people who probably did the same thing. It isn’t that we don’t care about these people, we have just seen this before. This thing that is such a horrific event, that should stop us in our tracks and make us fall to the ground in despair, is now a norm in today’s society. It’s now become odd to not have a mass shooting news alert everyday. We aren’t shocked that this happened, we just know it’s coming. We know this because we have seen this cycle many times before with the same end result… nothing.
I know that right now politicians, celebrities, and everyday people are posting heartfelt messages talking about “thoughts and prayers,” and how we must “come together to be strong as a country.” Our President will give a speech about how this devastating event will live on in our history but will not define us. You will have politicians making cases for gun reformation, and stricter gun laws, while those on the other side criticize those politicians for “capitalizing on these horrific events.” We talk about the NRA and gun lobbyist and the control they have. If they are white we talk about the shooter in a kinder way. We talk about his past and what caused him to shoot people. We blame mental health for the situation while turning our backs on the institutions that assist people with mental illnesses. We try and find the thing that turned a “good man” bad. If they are anything but white the narrative is much crueler to them. The person will be called a terrorist, a thug, or past crimes will be used as the descriptor before the person’s name. There is never talk of mental illness, there is no search for what lead them to this. The narrative is they were a minority, a “bad man” who did a bad thing like we expected him too. If they are muslim we take it one step further and then talk about bans, how ALL Muslims are killers, and perpetuate a narrative we have made up. We argue about how to prevent this in the future and for a moment there is hope that something will change that this time it will be different. But it never is. All this continues for a couple days, week max, and we forget until the next mass shooting then the cycle repeats.
This cycle happens so frequently and systematically that I can craft you the messages and the timeline before it even happens. I know who will say what and when. I know how long the country will mourn and which states we mourn longer for. It is as if we are working off a fixed script and we just change the name of the massacre. We know this narrative all too well, and we know the end result of nothing all too well. This is the world I have grown up in. This is my reality and the reality of everyone around me. Kids today do not know a world where mass shooting is not the norm. They don’t know what it’s like to go to a movie and not see a preview in the beginning warning them about threats. They don’t know what it’s like to go to a concert and not have a moment where you scan the crowd looking for threats. These shootings and their results have become all too common and we as a society are numb. We are numb to the pain, and numb to the impact this causes. We are numb to the response and the lack of action. It is as if when we read the alert our heart goes to feel the incredible weight of this horror but our brain stops us, telling us we have seen this before and we will see it again so crying over it is useless. This is our numb reality. We would rather live numb than feel the immense pain that comes with systematic mass shootings. I am guilty of being numb. I grew up in the era of gun violence and like my fellow generation we are numb because we know tomorrow brings more pain and more of the same…
“My Thoughts and Prayers are with [INSERT CITY HERE].”