Being Alert vs. Being Afraid — A Reflection on America’s Gun Violence

Growing up, my dad always told me to be alert, not afraid. This was a rhetoric I carried with me from elementary school into my college experience. I’ve always considered myself to be somewhat hyper-aware of my surroundings, very observant and alert at all times. It made sense to me. It made me feel safe.

Over the last couple of years, that feeling of safety has slowly started to fade. I continue to be alert. I continue to watch my surroundings and take precautions when I go anywhere alone. But I don’t feel safe. Not anymore.

This unsettling fear has grown so significantly even since the beginning of this semester that I am constantly looking over my shoulder. I keep my eyes down when I walk. I feel anxious when I am surrounded by crowds of people in an enclosed space.

Some people would say that it’s unnecessary paranoia. That I can’t spend my life consumed by fear. I’m not consumed by it, but it’s something I can’t ignore anymore.

Photo Credit: Jonathan Metzl

So, what changed?

Concerts. Churches. Synagogues. Movie theatres. Nightclubs. Elementary schools. Middle schools. High schools. College campuses. Marathons. Banks. Grocery stores. Festivals. Offices.

It can happen anywhere. Anytime. Since the start of 2018, there have been 307 mass shootings in the United States alone. That’s three hundred and seven. In less than a full 11 months. In the Gun Violence Archive, the list of mass shootings in 2018 is a whopping 13 pages long. If that doesn’t tell you something is wrong, I don’t know what does.

A few weeks ago, the Boston University Emergency Alert System sent out a mass alert about a potential gunman in the Kenmore Square area. For those who don’t know, that’s practically on our campus. I have a class right across the street from the Kenmore T station. I live a short 5-minute walk from it. These alerts went on for almost two hours with updates on the situation. The campus was essentially supposed to be on lockdown.

During the whole ordeal, I had managed to make it back to my apartment before reading a lot of the alert messages. I was in class when they started to come and we had been giving presentations. Once in my apartment, the panic started settling in. This was happening. On my campus. How could it be? Were my friends safe? Was I going to be safe?

I called my dad, but he was at work. My mom is a teacher, so she was at work and unable to talk on the phone. She said that her class was going to pray for us. My boyfriend was at work. My roommate was in class. I was alone. I was terrified. I remember literally shaking for an hour with silent tears pouring out of my eyes as though they were escaping a broken faucet. What if my school was the next Parkland? The next Vegas? The next Pulse? The next anywhere. Anytime.

Eventually, we were given an all clear and told that the man was not dangerous, or even armed anymore. It turned out that the alleged gunman was carrying an airsoft gun which he promptly ditched while the Boston University Police Department was searching for him. It wasn’t even a real gun.

Photo Credit: NPR

But that isn’t the point.

The point is, it could’ve been real. It could’ve happened on my campus.

The Vegas shooter, Stephen Paddock, scouted locations in Boston months before the actual shooting occurred in Vegas. Among these were the Blandford Street T station and BU’s Questrom School of Business, both of which are directly part of BU’s campus. The 58 people he murdered and the other 800+ who were injured could have been here. It very well could have been me, my friends, my colleagues, my professors, my fellow students.

Less than a month apart were the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and the most recent Thousand Oaks bar shooting. One of the victims of the Thousand Oaks was actually a survivor of the Vegas shooting. Things like this shouldn’t be happening. But they keep happening anyway.

This is why I don’t feel safe. Because locations that are supposed to be safe, where you’re supposed to feel comfortable and at ease, keep falling under attack. It can literally happen anywhere. Anytime.

Sometimes being alert isn’t enough.

I really wish that it was, but over the last few years, it has begun to seem otherwise. I want to believe that I don’t need to feel paranoid or anxious when I go anywhere. Sometimes I don’t feel it as much as others. But it’s always there. And I don’t think it’s just going to go away.

What’s the correct solution to this? I don’t know. Some say stricter gun laws. Some want to completely ban guns. Some people don’t believe anything needs to be done because “people kill people, guns don’t kill people.” This I happen to disagree with.

I don’t have the answers. Honestly, I don’t know if anyone really does. But what I do know is that nobody in power is actively trying to fix any of this, and something needs to change. Something needs to be done. We can’t keep living in a world where it’s become normal to have 307 mass shootings within less than a year. We can’t keep living in a world where it’s become normal to be nervous or anxious when going anywhere – whether it be to class, the movies, a concert, a bar, or anywhere in between.

As you continue to move through life, take my dad’s lesson, but with a slight modification: be alert, but know that it’s okay to feel afraid right now. Your fear is justified, as is my own.

I hope that one day I’ll be able to be alert and not afraid again.


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