I used to love balloons.
Now, the sound of balloons popping takes me back to three years ago when gunshots rang out in the mall where I was shopping. I will never forget the haunting echo of those pops or my mom telling me to run and keep running, no matter what.
My exposure to firearms didn’t start the day I became a survivor of gun violence. My dad serves in the military and made it a point to show me the meaning of responsible gun ownership from a young age. I went through online training and took in-person classes on how to operate a gun before I was ever allowed to join my dad on hunting trips.
Yet, my precaution did not render me immune to the pervasive gun violence in America.
As a soldier, my father knew that proper knowledge and training are non-negotiable when it comes to using guns. He always believed that our country needs stronger gun safety measures. These views stem from his understanding of how deadly these weapons can be if they fall into the wrong hands.
However, what my dad taught me couldn’t protect me from having an active shooter lockdown in elementary school. It couldn’t protect me from almost being gunned down at the mall years later. It couldn’t protect me from reliving that trauma, yet again, while comforting my friend after he was robbed at gunpoint. It couldn’t keep me from seeing the daily carnage caused by gun violence on the news my entire life.
Gun manufacturers rake in billions of dollars at the expense of our lives without facing any consequences, while survivors like myself are left to live with the pain and trauma their greed leave behind.
The proliferation of guns and the ease with which people have access to them is killing my generation. My story isn’t unique; it has become so common that firearms are now the leading cause of death for children, teens and college-aged people in America.
Growing up, I thought that arming myself was the only way to ensure my safety. I discovered the deadly consequences of guns getting into the wrong hands and how some systems perpetuate and benefit from such acts of violence. I choose now to protect myself and my loved ones by advocating for gun violence prevention. Joining Students Demand Action is how I’ve chosen to turn my pain into purpose.
This week is National Gun Violence Survivors Week, a time when we come together to honor and uplift survivors of gun violence. This year, the gun industry’s largest annual event, the SHOT Show, is taking place at the same time I’m sharing my story, serving as a grueling reminder of the role they play in exacerbating this crisis.
Every year, gun manufacturers rake in billions of dollars at the expense of our lives without facing any consequences, while survivors like myself are left to live with the pain and trauma their greed leave behind.
The proliferation of guns and the ease with which people have access to them is killing my generation.
The gun industry must be held accountable for the nation of gun violence survivors they have created.
That’s why I, along with my fellow Students Demand Action volunteers across the country, are demanding that gun manufacturers take sensible steps to stop producing AR-15s and similar assault weapons with high-capacity magazines, prioritize safety over lethality in their products, and avoid partnering with untrustworthy dealers.
We’re also calling on our colleges and universities to divest from the gun industry. We know that the most important thing to these companies is money, and many of our colleges are directly fueling the gun industry’s financial empire through their investments. The gun industry will not change until the havoc they’ve wreaked on our communities hits their bottom line. We’re organizing on our campuses to ensure it does.
Too many lives have been forever altered by the devastating impacts of gun violence. I will never be the girl I was before Oct. 3, 2020—the day I ran for my life at the mall.