I’ve only called 911 three times in my life.
The first time was when I was seven years old in a hotel room. I innocently dialed 911 and asked for more paper to draw on.
The second time was over this summer when I accidentally hit the “Emergency SOS” button (iPhone users – if you know, you know).
The third time was two months ago – a fully authentic and intentional call.
In late September, my friends and I left a popular off-campus bar right on the edge of campus. As we walked home, a man began to follow us, though keeping some distance.
He began to shout, asking where we were going and if he could come with us. Without skipping a beat, we collectively ignored him.
Not even a few minutes later, he discharged a gun three times. Since he was lingering behind us, I initially thought it was just fireworks – perhaps set off in a backyard close by.
As he eventually managed to somehow get ahead of us, there it was: a third-round shot right into the sky, with sparks of fluorescent orange and all. My friends and I stood only several feet behind him.
My mind immediately went numb. All I knew was to book it, pull out my phone and word vomit to the operator for two whole minutes.
Settling down from a state of hysteria, I could only comprehend a single thought: “What if?”
I couldn’t help but to draw my mind to the gun-related incidents that I’ve heard in the news before.
The Virginia Tech shooting happened in 2007, when 32 people were murdered on campus. A shooting at a bar near Pepperdine University, where multiple students were killed. Even two years ago, 10 people were injured outside of an Allentown nightclub. A few of many incidents we hear all the time.
My own experience was nothing compared to those, as we all were safe and uninjured – physically and mentally. It doesn’t even come close to the hurt that comes with lost lives and the trauma of survivors.
Yet, my gnawing thought of “What if?” remained. What if this incident somehow got out of control, more than it already was? What if I did die right outside of the college campus that I adored so dearly? What if it shifted into an incident that thousands of people die from every year?
After arriving at my apartment safely, the sleepless night progressed with debriefing, then later sitting upright in bed staring at my door, then shifting my head toward the window every five minutes. It was a night of paranoia – utter fear and shock – because it happened.
My shock and fear quickly subsided and, instead, merged into anger. Why did what happened even happen in the first place?
How did a gun get in the hands of a man who shot it recklessly with probably strong intentions to mess with college students? How did a gun get in the hands of any perpetrator for any of the related incidents?
No incident could’ve been said to “slip through the cracks” of today’s gun laws when there are too many to count. They were preventable and shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
With the constant news cycle of a shooting here and there, for what seems like multiple times a week, we’ve cultivated a norm.
Myself and others were emotionally immune to nearly every notification about a shooting because of its magnitude – in addition to the fact that action is seldom taken and legislation preventing it almost never gets passed.
It was my experience that made me realize that gun violence is literally a growing epidemic. It spreads and gets closer and closer to us until it happens to you.
We’ve learned to live with gun violence and accept that it could potentially strike us one day.
It shouldn’t be the norm to sit down in a classroom and immediately think of an escape route.
It shouldn’t be the norm to go to the movies and glance across a dark room every five minutes.
It shouldn’t be the norm to go to a party or concert and figure out how you’ll shuffle through the crowd to make an exit, just in case.
But it is, and we’ll live like this until some sort of action against guns and gun violence is taken. These incidents will only increase more and impact more of us in the near future.
My last fall semester at Lehigh was completely overshadowed by this. I wish I could say I feel safe, but I don’t.
My experience, alongside thousands of others, shouldn’t be the norm. We need action immediately.