On April 29th, 1996 Australia experienced the worst massacre in the country’s history. Port Arthur left 35 killed, 25 injured and a country reeling. Following the spree the Prime Minister at the time introduced strict gun control laws restricting the private ownership of guns and never again has Australia had a mass shooting.
In 1996, I was a 1.
I grew up in the bliss of an Australian childhood without fear of mass violence. I wasn’t afraid that a student would bring a gun to my school and open fire and I definitely wasn’t afraid of being killed going to a movie theatre or a shopping center.
In 1999, Two students opened fire in Columbine high school, killing 13 and wounding 23 before killing themselves. I was 4. I wasn’t old enough to have heard of the shooting when it happened and it wasn’t until university years later that I finally got the full picture of what had actually happened, and how this single event started everything.
When my Mother decided to immigrate herself, my two brothers and I to America to be with my step father I wasn’t thinking of guns, or of violence, I was thinking of hope and a new future.
We were all set to leave in 2001, but on September 11th that same year, everything changed.
It was dinner time in Brisbane and my brothers and I were eating spaghetti and watching TV just like we always did when the news broke about what was happening in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.
To this day I can see the TV set showing the Twin Towers with its pillows of black smoke and people falling and falling and falling to their deaths.
My mother was panicked, pacing in the kitchen trying to get in touch with my step father who had boarded a flight to Pennsylvania that same day, and praying that he was ok.
It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how important that event would be in shaping the world. This was the first time in my life that an act mass violence had personally shaped my future.
Our parents had wars and conflicts, we had 9/11 and that single event bared me from immigrating to America for 2 more years.
But eventually, we got here.
On May 19th, 2003 we landed in Cleveland, Ohio. I was 8 years old.
Growing up in America, I was introduced to guns and how to shoot them, though I never truly felt comfortable with its warm metal in my hands. I was taught about guns through the air of safety and with a confidence that they were not toys and not to be used to cause harm.
I was at a sleepover when I had my next brush with them. We were a group of four girls all sleeping in the livingroom when in the middle of the night we were woken up to yells and to my friend’s father frantically loading a handgun and sprouting obscenities.
Later that night I would find out that it was all caused by an argument between her father and another man that had escalated but thankfully the gun was never fired and no one hurt. I was 14.
I remember my middle school installing metal detectors and security guards.
I remember the inset of my paranoia, of my distrust, and of my slowly sizzling state anxiety.
My freshman year old high school I remember how it became a horrible joke to evacuate a school with a bomb threat call.
It seemed that I was hearing more and more about school shootings. About half way through every year I would think to myself that I hadn’t heard of any in a while and get hopeful that maybe times were changing. Then there would be another one and I would be left feeling hopeless, scared, and with every new shooting more paranoid. I would walk through the halls of my small town high school and scan for anyone that looked conspicuous, the guy in the trench coat, the kids that were into hunting and guns.
My sophomore year in high school a student at my school was arrested for buying a gun on Facebook and bringing it with him to school in his car. He never brought it inside. I was sitting outside of the front doors when he was brought outside to an awaiting sheriff car, surrounded by a handful of police and my Principle. I still remember the way my Principle talked and yelled at him, how it was obvious that he was throwing all of his fear and anger at him for what would could have happened. My principles kids also went to that school. I was 16.
It was the same year in 2012 that a school only 1 hour away from me was home to an active shooter. The shooting by T.J. Lane at Chardon high school that killed 3 people was not only horrible because of the deaths, but also because of the killer. T.J Lane terrified me because of his total lack of empathy, the “Killer” t-shirt he wore to his trial and the sickening things he said about the people that he had killed. Maybe it was just to close.
I thought it couldn’t get worse than a person like that.
I was wrong.
On December 18th, 2012 the worst school shooting in American history happened. Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was unimaginable. At this point, school shootings were always horrific but always a when. A horrible dread of when, not if the next one would happen. Never did people imagine a 20-year-old walking into an elementary school and opening fire on children, all between the ages of 6 and 7 years old and 6 adult staff members.
And like Chardon and many before, I called my mum and I sobbed, thinking the world couldn’t get any worse than a man murdering children.
On June 12th, 2016 the deadliest mass shooting happened at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 people are killed and more than 50 are injured because they were gay, and POC. This showed that yet again, nowhere and nobody was safe. Then the 911 calls were released and families told of their last moments on the phone with the victims. I thought of 9/11 and how all that their loved ones got in the end was a phone call and most didn’t even get that.
I had come out as Bi a year earlier. I was 21.
When the paris attacks happened I remember having to message people to see if they were alive, or when a man drove his car into a crowd in front of a building on the Ohio State University campus and stabbed people, I had to text people to see if they were alive. I have gotten to the point that I thought the absolute worse until being told otherwise.
I can remember where I was and what I was doing for every major massacre in my lifetime and every time the same thing seems to happen, grief, anger, and no change.
All of these people were dead and nothing was changed.
This is why it is time to start taking responsibility for our generations role in the fight against mass violence. We are the generation that grew up in this. We are passionate but we are also desensitized to the violence.
We can help fight the violence by knowing who represent us, voting, running for office, educating ourselves and making our voices heard when we disagree.
I don’t want my children to have the same stories that I do.
With Australia it only took 1. When will America learn that you can’t fix a broken system by doing nothing.
Its our time to change that.
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