Fear As Fuel After Las Vegas

OpinionStaff Op-Ed

Photo courtesy of David Becker / Getty Images

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When tragedy struck Las Vegas on Oct. 1, its ramifications rippled through the nation immediately. However, for a brief moment, I found myself unsurprised. While America has been pulsating with feelings of anger and sadness and the President has only reinforced such emotions with his messages, I hesitate to jump on Twitter or Facebook to opine the recent massacre.

Now, I refuse to be apathetic. I vocalize my opinions, beliefs, and emotions on a consistent basis. I am a strong advocate of social and political involvement and will never abstain from an argument for fear of opposition. However, when it comes to events like this I find myself silenced—not because the topic of gun control is sensitive or I fear political discourse, but because it feels fruitless, redundant, routine even.

Within the year, 270 mass shootings have taken place in the United States, making massacre by gunfire seem ordinary. The course of action following these events is equally predictable, and frankly, ineffective. These shootings have not only taken hundreds of innocent lives, but have also strippped the innocent gaiety out of seeing a movie in the theater with friends, attending a music festival, or even going to school. At the time, I felt embarrassed for visualizing an emergency escape route while amidst a swaying crowd of millennials, listening to Lorde perform at the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco this summer. In retrospect, my sheepish thought was wise and will most likely become common practice.

Regrettably, the frequency and proximity of these shootings make gun violence seem like a distant, muffled problem—a problem that, although we consider normalized, could “never happen to me”. Yet a mere 5 months ago, a gunman showered bullets into the Crossroads Apartment pool complex, killing 1 and injuring 7, only a few blocks away from the UC San Diego campus.  

University campuses are frequently referred to as bubbles. As a student attending university, I can attest to this feeling. I feel protected, removed, and secure from the outside world. But recently this has changed. As I make my way down Library Walk, I am on edge. Glancing at the anonymous faces passing by, I wonder if I will see them again, perhaps on the front page of the news in the form of a mug shot, their expressions stoic like Stephen Paddock or Dylann Roof.

The fear and insecurity fomented by regular mass shootings have heightened to the point where individuals are seeking protection even when a threat does not exist. At University of Southern California, a teacher falsely triggered a lockdown only days after the Las Vegas tragedy. Yet the agitation has gone further, sparking behavior that alludes to larger social issues such as racial profiling, which are deeply interconnected to our right to bear arms. Last May, Colgate University was placed on lockdown for four hours due to an alleged gun threat. The “gunman” was a Black student using a glue gun for a project in one of the student centers. For people of color, racist incidents like the Colgate lockdown will further intensify fears of both mass shootings and of connected discriminatory biases.

But cowering in fear or calculating a quick evacuation at every public event is hardly an appropriate remedy to an epidemic of gun violence. Tangible and immediate legislative change is necessary for this chaos to subside.

It does not take a politician to recognize the common thread present in every single shooting case. In Las Vegas there were 23 of them, in Charleston there were 2, and in Orlando there was one. Automated weapons, especially underregulated, military-grade, semi-automatic weapons are the reason why tragedies like the ones mentioned above occur. There is no way around it. Yet, due to pressure from powerful lobbying groups like the NRA, politicians still manage to evade the subject of increased gun restrictions completely. Politicians so blatantly choose to disregard the loss of innocent human lives that they are in the process of passing a bill that loosens restrictions on gun silencers.

Because legislators ignore the imminent threat posed by gun violence, I was prompted to write this piece and reach out to my local representative. I can draw from an expansive number of recent shooting events (my ability to say that is, in itself, sad and terrifying) to prove how crucial public involvement is because, although it may not seem like it, everyone is affected. Whether you are an elementary school student like those at Sandy Hook, a college undergrad like those at Virginia Tech, a music festival goer, or just the average parent organizing a birthday pool party, gun violence is real and present, but most importantly, it is preventable. It is only natural to feel helpless in these dark times, but it is crucial that we speak up and act out to make real change. 

Sophie Reynolds is the Assistant Opinion Editor at The Triton.