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. 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.
But, when we were all set to leave in 2001, the twin towers crumbled and everything changed.
I remember that it was dinner time in Brisbane when the news broke about what was happening in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C.
I was 6.
To this day I can see the TV set showing the Twin Towers with pillows of black smoke and people falling to their deaths.
My mother was panicked, pacing, trying to get in touch with my step father who had boarded a flight to Pennsylvania that same day, and distraught of the possibility of harm.
It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how important that event would be in shaping the world and my life. This was the first of many times that an act of mass violence had personally shaped my future.
Our parents had wars and conflicts, we had 9/11.
That single event barred me from immigrating to America for 2 more years and ours was a relatively quick process in comparison to many.
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 their functions, though I never truly felt comfortable with the cold metal in my hands.
I was at a sleepover when I had my first brush with guns outside of the air of safety. We were a group of 4 girls all sleeping in the living room when in the middle of the night we were woken up to a commotion, and to my friend’s father frantically loading a handgun and shouting obscenities.
Even now, I can’t help the echo of how terrified I was.
Later that night, I would find out that it was all caused by an argument between her father and another man that had escalated to a point of violence, but thankfully the gun was never fired and no one was 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 of existential anxiety.
My freshman year of high school, I remember how it became a horrible joke to evacuate a school with a bomb threat call.
Every year it seemed that I was hearing more and more about active shooters in schools. About half way through every school 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 country-town high school and scan for anyone that looked conspicuous, the guy in the trench coat, the kids that raved about hunting.
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. Thankfully, he never brought it inside.
I was sitting right outside the front doors when he was brought to an awaiting sheriff car, surrounded by a handful of police and my principle. The memory of how my principle yelled at him sticks with me because it was obvious that he was throwing all of his fear and anger into the way he was yelling, fear of what could have happened. My principles children also went to that school.
I was 16.
It was that 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 was not only horrible because of the deaths, but also because of the killer. T.J Lane truly terrified me. He had a total lack of empathy, wore a t-shirt penned with the word “Killer” to his trial and said sickening things about the people that he had killed.
Also it was just to close.
I was used to hearing about shootings around the country but because of Chardon’s proximity, I was like it was happening to a neighbor, a friend.
It was at this point that I thought it couldn’t get worse than a ‘T.J. Lane.’
I was wrong.
On December 18th, 2012 the worst school shooting in American history at that time happened. What happened at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut was unimaginable. At this point, school shootings were always horrific but always a when. The horrible dread of when, not if the next one would happen. Never did people imagine a 20-year-old would walk 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 again at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. 49 people are killed and more than 50 were 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 heard the last moments of their loved ones through phone calls with the victims.
I thought of 9/11 and how again the last thing that the victims families got from them was a phone call and most didn’t even get that.
I had come out as Bisexual a year earlier.
I was 21.
When the paris attacks unfolded I had to message friends and hope that they weren’t dead. When a man drove his car into a crowd of students in front of a building on the Ohio State University campus and stabbed people, I had to text friends and again hope they weren’t dead.
I have gotten to the point that I think the absolute worse until being told otherwise.
Not even 16 months after Pulse, we again have a new record for deadliest mass shooting in the United States. On October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada, a 64 year old man rained down bullets from his hotel room in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino onto a crowd enjoying a country music festival , killing 59 and injuring more than 500 more.
The country is still reeling and healing but the same sequence of events that always seems to happen after an attack of this nature is unfolding: grief, anger, and absolutely no change to make this stop.
All of these people are dead and nothing has changed.
I can remember where I was and what I was doing for every major massacre in my lifetime.
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.
We can help fight the violence by knowing who represents 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.
It’s time to change that.
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