I’ve grown up in a generation where mass shootings are seen as an unpreventable norm, instead of something we should be doing everything in our power to stop. I didn’t even fully realize how strangely often mass shootings have been a part of my upringing until the recent scare at USC pieced together how crazy our country is when it comes to gun violence.
I remember my parents randomly picking me up from school one day in fifth grade and taking me to Chuck E. Cheese’s, only to learn later that the district had called parents alerting them there had been a shooting threat at my school in La Verne.
As a 15-year-old, I argued with my more conservative adolescent peers about gun control and the Second Amendment after the Aurora movie theater shooting, at what would have otherwise been a normal teenage pool party. A few months later, I huddled in the bathroom of my high school as I read the first news updates about Sandy Hook on my phone.
And last year, I felt my stomach drop as I walked across McCarthy Quad while skimming an alert about San Bernardino, as I realized I knew someone who worked at the Inland Regional Center.
This week, I woke up early on a Monday morning to a series of frantic texts from friends that someone from our high school class, one of my former softball teammates, had been killed in Las Vegas – and several others from our hometown were injured. I spent most of my morning on my phone and social media, checking for updates.
I couldn’t focus on school work, so I dragged myself to the library, hoping I’d have better luck there. Within 20 minutes, I was receiving messages from DPS and friends all over campus about reports of shots fired at USC. The news reached media outlets, and I quickly transitioned from messaging friends to find out if people we knew in Vegas were safe to responding to frantic texts from the same friends and family members, now worried about me.
It was this experience that snapped into perspective for me how much we have normalized gun violence. Yes, I knew that this was an issue before, but the way the school responded to the incident made it personally clear to me.
Two things struck me immediately following the scare. First, USC administration apparently expected students to simply return to class as if nothing had happened. I’m thankful that the situation was only a false alarm, but regardless of the fact that shots weren’t actually fired, students and faculty still spent nearly an hour barricaded in rooms across campus, believing their peers may have been shot. This obviously has a psychological impact, especially considering the fact that everyone was still reeling from the news about Las Vegas. By refusing to formally cancel classes, USC implied that an active shooter threat is a “normal” situation that students should be able to quickly recover from.
Secondly, some of the rhetoric I heard describing the campus incident was equally disturbing. Many people seemed almost to speak of it as “practice.” Annenberg Media put out a video on what to do in a “real” shooting scenario on campus. I overheard students say it was good that we know how quickly LAPD would respond in a “real” situation, and have heard conversations on what students “learned” and what they’d “do differently” if it happened for real. I myself was guilty of this, as I exited lockdown thinking that I didn’t think the position I was in was very safe as I was close to a door, and that I know now to try to get away from doors.
These conversations themselves are not the problem, but the fact that we somehow live in a developed country where students apparently need to be prepared for someone to enter their classroom and begin shooting at them at any given time.
We need to stop acting like this is normal. And as long as we don’t treat the gun violence epidemic like a political problem, we continue to normalize it. Refusing to treat it as a political problem that can be solved implies that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do to at least alleviate it. But there must be something we can do – it seems as if all other Western countries have figured it out.
This problem is unique to our country, and when it happens we need to immediately frame the conversation as “What can we do to make sure this never happens again?” Claiming that it is inappropriate to make it a “political issue” and avoiding conversation on gun control policy completely ignores the root cause of the problem, and throws away any chance of addressing it.
So please, let’s start treating like a political issue immediately. And even more importantly, we need to continue treating it like a political issue everyday until lawmakers take steps to resolve it. Don’t allow yourself to slowly forget what happened in Las Vegas – I know I won’t be able too.