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Responsible gun safety legislation — or the lack thereof — is something that dominates my daily thoughts, and those closest to me know not to bring up the topic unless they’re willing to hear me discuss it for the next hour. I repeat the facts and figures on gun violence to classmates, in hopes of planting the seeds of future activism and voting behavior. I forward them articles and hope that, together, we can change the conversation on gun legislation. 

Gun safety legislation has become my single issue in the voting booth, and I write an op-ed for myself each time another mass shooting becomes a fleeting headline. Lately, I have even started having dreams in which I become a victim of someone armed with an assault rifle. I may not look like someone who obsesses over the likelihood of my name and bio becoming part of some article titled “Remembering the Victims of the [insert name of college, town, movie theater, church, concert] Shooting.” I grew up in an affluent suburb of Los Angeles, and attend one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, where I am surrounded by iron gates and Gothic towers. Statistically, I do not have reason to fear that I will become a victim of gun violence. Yet, on two dates — Dec. 14, 2012, and May 23, 2014 — I knew the names that became part of these kinds of articles. In 2012, my sister’s best friend’s 7-year-old family member became part of a headline describing the murder of little children at Sandy Hook, and in 2014, my friend and former teammate became another. It was in reading one of these articles that I learned that she had been gunned down while standing outside her sorority house in Santa Barbara. Almost four years later, I still remember walking past local news cameras to sit at her memorial service and stare at the flowers floating in the pool where we had once played together. 

Fate struck again on Oct. 1, 2017, when three of my family members escaped a hail of bullets that had interrupted a Las Vegas concert. After each new report of preventable gun violence, I ask myself, “Who’s next?” I look at these three separate incidents and try to understand how gun violence continues to hit closer and closer to home. Then, I remember that the uniquely American problem of mass-scale gun violence does not need to continue to be a problem. Though I may not hold a seat in Congress, I have a voice and a story that can change minds. I might even help shape a conversation on how to support legislation and organizations that make the United States a safer country. 

Emily Smith is a senior concentrator in politics. She can be contacted at emilyas@princeton.edu

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