Six months before I came to Princeton, a shooter walked into my high school with a shotgun and killed two of my classmates. I was in the cafeteria studying for finals when I heard shots thunder through the hallway. I hid and waited to die. Hours later when I escaped the school, I ran past a trail of blood with my hands up. I owe my life to the armed police officer stationed in my school who confronted the shooter. It could have been so much worse.
But it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. Someone should have conducted an evaluation when the manic student went to buy his shotgun and ammunition across town at a hunting store. Someone should have questioned him when he purchased hundreds of rounds of shotgun shells, the kind only good at close range. Someone should have followed up with the multiple tips and concerns that were reported to the school and police.
The real story I want to share with you is one not explicitly about gun control. I want to tell you about the human impact of gun violence. I grew up 20 minutes away from Columbine High School, where 15 were killed and 23 wounded, and 30 minutes from the Aurora theater, where 12 people were killed and 70 wounded.
A thousand students walked out of Columbine in 1999 with blood on their sneakers and trauma rifling through their brains. Hundreds walked out of the Aurora theater on the night of the “Dark Knight” premiere, a night-out-turned-nightmare they wouldn’t soon forget. These survivors escaped the scene with their lives, but they could never escape the impact. These tragedies change people.
I count and remember every shooting I see in the news. Reading about them always takes a part of my soul out. Just a little bit. Every time. This gap in my soul has become a part of me, whether I like it or not. I can’t help but watch as trauma, guilt, and numbness wash over a fresh batch of survivors. I see the same script played out every time it happens. People walking out with their hands on their heads surrounded by SWAT team members with huge rifles. Friends clasping each other and weeping onto the pavement. Students have their first day back to school, taking classes that would never be the same. I know something of what it’s like. And it’s an emotional chasm.
I, like others, almost didn’t write this column. You see, my tragedy wasn’t just something I could experience and move on from. It has been the singular event that tainted my experience here at Princeton. My mind was invaded by the anxiety of an ambush during a COS 126 lecture. I broke out into a cold sweat when my roommates popped bubble wrap or slammed a door. My classes felt pointless and my relationships felt distant. I watched myself from afar as I went through the motions of my first few years of Princeton. I didn’t experience a single day of it. Those are years I will never get back.
And that’s just it. Gun violence takes lives. But it also takes some life away from the living. I’ve heard it said that our generation won’t stand for this kind of violence to continue once we are in power. Surely, our generation will do something. Please, my dear classmates and leaders of the future, let that be true.
Joe Redmond is a senior chemical and biological engineer from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.