December 13th, 2013 is a day that will burn in the back of my mind forever. I remember hearing my principal's voice over the intercom, telling us to quickly and quietly get into position for a lockdown. I remember crouching in my World Civilizations class, back pressed against a hard concrete wall, hours of sitting and waiting for some sort of clue as to what was happening. At some point, my friend sent me a text, "There's an active shooter at Arapahoe High School. Somebody's been shot." I remember being confused, thinking "how can this be?" I remember comforting the other kids, reassuring them that their deepest fears weren't about to come true. Shooters don't travel from school to school, right? We would be okay, wouldn't we? Even though it didn't happen to our school, we were still all so terrified, unsure if our friends were okay, if we were truly safe. After what had felt like forever, we were allowed to have our parents come and pick us up. My mom and I drove home in stunned silence, until I turned to her and asked, "Mom, what did you guys do in these kinds of situations when you were in high school?" She seemed horrified that I had even asked. "We never had these kinds of situations when I was in high school." I was confused: we had gone to the exact same high school, so what made her experience so different than mine? Gun violence had always existed, so why did we have to participate in lockdown drills and were told over and over to report any potentially violent students? What had changed?

I come from a community wracked by gun violence. Columbine, the Aurora Movie Theater shooting, the Planned Parenthood shooting and Arapahoe were only a few of the attacks that shook us all to the core and truly tested our strength and resilience. Though we as a community were hurt, we were able to come together in these trying times. I saw vigils held, money raised, tears shed and people truly looking out for one another. My high school, Heritage, may have been Arapahoe's rival, but we as a student body buried the hatchet and helped to heal a grieving community. Though I was angry about the lives lost by these senseless tragedies, I was also touched by how many people truly cared. We never lost hope and that's what kept us going. It was amazing to see how much we accomplished despite our pain. 

Even though I may not have been directly affected by this tragedy, seeing the aftermath made me think. I continued to hear stories of similar incidences across the nation, of communities similar to mine who were turned upside down by active shooters. It was always difficult for me to understand why and how these sorts of things could happen. What would compel someone to commit such a horrendous act? How could others not notice the warning signs before it was too late? And finally, how could a nation turn a blind eye every time such an atrocity was committed? To me, it seemed as though America cared more about its guns than about the lives of it's citizens. Guns were supposed to serve as a means of protection, but all they seemed to do was rip lives apart and leave communities in ruins. I was constantly angry, each new incident a fuel to my fire. I was also afraid. So many tragedies had occurred, several in my own backyard. What if I was next? What would I do in that situation? 

I began to mentally prepare myself to be in that situation, pondering every "what if?" Every new room or building I entered made me think of a new exit strategy, a new way to get out and survive. Maybe I was too paranoid and maybe it was just my anxiety disorder running rampant, creating every possible scenario in order to allow my frantic brain to at least feel somewhat prepared for any impractical scenario. But in reality, was this scenario truly impractical at this point? Mass shootings are now occurring every day, according to statistics. It seems as though every time you turn on the TV, there's another incident to report on, another innocent life to grieve. I was so afraid and I often wondered if anybody else shared my anxiety. Turns out, the thought of a mass shooting is an extremely common fear among young people and many feel as though they are unable to live their day-to-day lives without preparing for the worst. What kind of dystopia do we live in that mass shootings are so common that they are a common, logical fear among a good deal of our nation's young people? When my mother was in high school, only 33 short years ago, this kind of thing was nearly unheard of, only something that would happen in a scary story. Nothing about this is excusable. 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not in favor of completely and utterly banning civilian ownership of firearms. I am a person who believes that the protection of personal rights and liberties are of the upmost importance, as long as what you do does not harm anyone else.  If guns and hunting are your idea of a good time, then be my guest, it's your right. However, I am also a proponent of proper gun control, an issue that I do not believe is being properly addressed by our current administration. Gun control does not mean stripping away the guns of normal, sane citizens, it means making them harder to obtain for those who would use them for all the wrong reasons. Of course, I am not so naive to believe that this will be a permanent solution: there are other ways to obtain guns, such as through the black market. However, making it more difficult to obtain a gun in the first place will significantly decrease the likelihood of these weapons ending up in the wrong hands, and will decrease the number of incidences involving gun violence. There may be no solution to permanently end gun violence, but proper gun laws can certainly lower the risk. In order to ensure the safety of every American citizen, we as a nation must be willing to take these measures. 

Even as I begin to move past my fear and am learning to cope with my anxieties, small trickles of fear re-enter my mind every time I hear news of the latest tragedy. I wish I could say that it couldn't happen to me, that I have no reason to fear for the safety of myself and those I care about, but it simply isn't realistic. By not taking the correct measures to prevent gun violence, by continuing to ignore the cries of those who grieve the loss of their loved ones, we as Americans have created this culture of fear and uncertainty. There is no excuse for my generation to live in fear, to constantly wonder if our lives are at stake every time we leave the house. In order to eradicate this fear, we need to confront this problem at the source and make sure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the wrong hands. It is time for us reevaluate our priorities when it comes to the safety of our fellow man. Gun control must happen now. 

Lead Image Credit: Melanie Wasser via Unsplash