I don’t remember where I was when I heard about the September 11th attacks. I was just four years old at the time, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t recall a time when I didn’t know about the day that plunged my country into an era of perennial fear. People my age remember September 11th not as a transformative event which radically changed American politics and society, but as an indicator of the insecure world we live in today.
But although I’m unable to remember September 11, 2001, I know I will always vividly remember December 14, 2012. I was halfway through the ninth grade, and it was just short of 3:00 PM when my mother picked me up after school.
She was crying.
Tearfully, she explained to me that, even as I sat oblivious in my own school, an armed gunman had marched through the halls of another, shooting students and staff members alike. I remember, sitting in that car with NPR urgently reporting the latest updates on the catastrophe, feeling a sense of hopelessness and horror. Unlike September 11th, the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut wasn’t driven by religious fanaticism or by a desire to send some sort of political message. It was, in the simplest definition of the word, senseless. Other mass shootings, including most notably the Virginia Tech and Aurora attacks, had captured my attention previously, but this was the first one I had heard of which specifically targeted elementary school children. It was in this moment that I truly felt, for the first time in my life, that nowhere was safe. If a mass shooting could happen in an elementary school, then it could happen anywhere.
I was heartbroken by the tragic loss of life at Newtown, but I was outraged by our country’s failure to adopt even modest measures to prevent similar mass shootings. Now, over three years later, when someone refers to a mass shooting in a movie theater, I have to stop and wonder whether they’re talking about Aurora, Colorado or Lafayette, Louisiana. Every day brings more news of mass shootings: mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, bars, work parties, colleges, and churches, all places where people go to feel safe.
And every step of the way, we have failed to adopt even the simplest measures to combat the violence which plagues our country. Last December, in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shooting, the United States Senate considered a proposal to ban individuals on the “no-fly list”—a registry of individuals deemed too dangerous to board an aircraft—from purchasing firearms. This is a common-sense measure: if a person can’t be trusted on a plane, then they certainly should not be trusted with a firearm. Yet the Senate quickly voted down the measure. In our own state of Michigan, legislators responded to news of national mass shootings by advancing legislation to allow concealed carry in schools.
Clearly, our response to gun violence has been far from adequate, and when we fail to address this problem, we promote the idea that it is both normal and unavoidable. If we don’t change course, young children today may remember the tragedies that occurred in Newtown, Charleston, San Bernardino and so many other places as the norm. Today’s inaction is stifling future solutions, and we can no longer be complicit in the desensitization of our country to gun violence. Now more than ever, it is time to adopt common-sense gun control measures—for example, increased background checks—which have the potential to save lives and make us, finally, feel safe again.