I have just awoken from another chilling dream of a man’s face that I do not remember knowing. He had a gun and desperately wanted the school to suffer a lesson. Sympathy, attention, revenge, and all other motivators brought fire to his eyes and a coldness to his heart. I was scared and hiding, holding my breath for so long that my body woke me in a sheet of sweat, scared for my life even though it was my own mind that conjured the image. I forgot to breathe again until my brain, tired of being starved, pulled oxygen into my lungs without my knowledge and made them full until they ached with the heaviness of the air around me. I am terrified. I am sure that I will always be terrified.
I wish I could say that this was a strange occurrence to me; however, I feel that I am not alone in all of my repeated worries. It seems that every other day, Americans, as a people, are faced with yet another threat from some source — be it a friend, a colleague, a peer, or the government. There are so many ways that something malicious could enter your life nowadays. There are way too many ways. It seems like there is nowhere that is safe anymore. We cannot escape to the mall, school, or even our own homes without feeling we have to be on the lookout for someone or something.
Honestly, I am so tired . . . but I cannot go back to sleep. No, of course I cannot go back to sleep. The next time, I will dream of hiding behind a mannequin in a department store or of keeping my breath from making sound from behind the door of my chemistry classroom. There is no escape from your own head.
What is really to blame for all of these images running through my head and through the heads of students all across our country? Maybe gun laws are to blame. After all, we have taken an idea — the right to stand up to our own government using arms — that was meant to apply to trained militia and have applied it to all Americans instead. It could be that guns are easier to get than a driver’s license, though that is all only speculation on my part. I should not let the endless statistics found on the Gun Violence Archive website (http://www.gunviolencearchive.org/) distract me from all the pros of guns. What does it matter if 9,625 people have died because of guns just this year in the United States alone? Only 455 of those were children under the age of 12, and only 1,906 more were between the ages of 12 and 17. There have been 236 documented mass shooting events this year in the United States. Obviously, these statistics are nothing in comparison to the freedom for any and everyone to own guns . . . right?
Perhaps it is not gun laws, but instead the state of health care —specifically — mental health care, in our country. Maybe those who commit acts of hate only needed a certain medication or another therapeutic technique in order to keep from taking the lives of others. Then again, it could be the violent nature of the media consumed in our country, the sudden increase in purist culture that requires every person to have been perfect from the minute that we are born, or, maybe it is just an epidemic running rampant in this country because copycats get the attention they crave.
Whatever the cause of these mass episodes of terror are, they make people, students, young adults like me to sit up in their beds in the middle of the night, wondering desperately if their dream was just another product of this violent world or a prediction of what is to come. What a heart-stopping thought: if our nightmares are really premonitions, then when will it happen? How do I decide to leave my dorm again?
The only idea that is clear in my head is that this needs to stop. Americans, especially those currently in power somewhere in the government, have a responsibility to their fellow citizens to stop this barrage of the angel of death that flashes across every television set in the country. We need deep, moving, societal changes not only in how strictly we regulate the acquisition of guns, but also in how we treat the killers who would use them against school children. Killers do not deserve to have their name known. We cannot reward their behavior with the attention that they are begging for because praise will make copycats more willing. We need better access to healthcare so people do not feel desperate and worthless; we need to keep them from risking their lives out of spite for not being able to save themselves.
Most of all, we need to stop normalizing intense violence. No child should grow up saying that they are comfortable with the sights of bloody war, nor should they be so okay with watching graphic deaths that they stare blankly ahead at the screen, ready for something louder and angrier to occur. Movies should not be a contest to see who can have the loudest gun shots, most impressive explosions, and bloodiest gore scenes. This has to stop being a part of our culture. We need to stop teaching that violence is a necessary answer to our problems because soon enough, it becomes exactly that; and that is a world that keeps people, students, and young adults like me in a cold sweat each night as we struggle to find a moment’s peace in a tumultuous world.