Webber: Guns bring fear to everyday life


The previous three weeks left ten murdered and three wounded, but no gunshots were fired on Oct. 23, 2002. It was just my ninth birthday. I lived in Centreville, Va., where a 20-mile ride down the Beltway led to the nation’s capital. And there, in the suburbs of freedom, I learned fear. But no one died on my ninth birthday–there was only a message released by the Chief of Police on behalf of the Beltway sniper.

“Your children are not safe anywhere, at any time,” he said.

It felt like I had aged far beyond the candles on my cake let on. I couldn’t play freeze tag outside with my friends or rollerblade down the block. Field trips were cancelled, my soccer season was cancelled, Halloween was cancelled. My whole world was being held at gunpoint, and we were giving in to every demand. There were new procedures, new restrictions, new ways of life. We had to be prepared because we weren’t safe anywhere.

“At any time.”

The news anchors called him the Beltway sniper, but we didn’t know if it was one man or 20. One day, someone was shot at a Shell gas station in Maryland. Another day, it was a woman in the parking lot of my local Home Depot. Anyone could have bought that gun. Anyone could have been the killer. Anyone could have been the woman lying dead on a gravel parking lot. Anyone could have been the husband weeping over bloodstained grocery bags and his best friend’s lifeless corpse. But the sniper had a right to own his gun; no one could deny that.

Within a few weeks, I went from believing in Santa to barely believing in God. I learned that my dad wasn’t really a superhero – he waited in his car until the D.C. transit bus arrived every day instead of standing at the stop like a sitting duck. I stopped thinking I had a safe learning environment after a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed entering his middle school. I grew up too fast. And at the same time, I know there will always be a part of me that won’t ever grow up; a part that will wish my parents could always be there to check for the monsters under my bed, and to protect me from the ones in the movie theaters and the elementary schools and the shopping malls and the beltways.

But as a country, we learned to be safer so that we could accommodate their rights. We put metal detectors in our schools and made “Code Red” drills and lockdowns as routine as saying the Pledge of Allegiance. And I learned to deal with it, too. I stopped sleeping, so I could always be alert. I stopped trusting people. I tried my hardest to block out a few years of my childhood. And now I see a therapist to work through my problems. Insomnia. Anxiety. Depression.

“…not safe anywhere, at any time.”

It’s been over ten years since my town came under attack, but the story repeats itself every day. And every day, there are new victims–not just the ones in the caskets. There are kids in Newtown who saw their playmates die and still have to go back to school, and parents who have to let them. There are teenagers in Overland Park who will be afraid to go outside when concealed carry laws pass. There are amendments for gun ownership, but none for mental health, happiness and comfort. And so I’ll make each day a little safer, as a slave to my fear and a slave to my freedom.

Will Webber is a sophomore majoring in journalism from Prairie Village. Read more from .

  • Updated Jan. 22, 2013 at 6:24 pm
  • hinglemckringle

    Really? Gun violence is all about you now? This shouldn’t be some sob story about how awful your life is from events that didn’t even impact you. The second amendment protects people from the government by preventing a single authority to have the sole access to firearms. We need the amendment. It’s awful that people use guns like that but people also do numerous other illegal and horrible acts using all manner of legal materials.

    • fiddleback

      Pretty knee-jerk of you, emphasis on the latter part. “…events that didn’t even impact you.” I think you need to re-read his story again. Plus, where did he attack the second amendment?? The most I’d venture to speculate is that he is, like most Americans, probably in favor of more effective gun regulations. Otherwise he’s just lamenting what’s become of our collective psychology, so you’re off base to launch such a partisan screed.

    • loluidiot

      out government is getting alot worse and yet no one will use those guns against it… go try using your gun in DC. try it! go fight the power!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1406257492 Mike Webber

    Nice column. Coming weeks after the latest mass murder by another gun nut, you’ve avoided merely repeating the same content already published repeatedly and accomplished the purpose of such a column, regardless of whether simple-minded trolls know the distinction.

    The Second Amendment was intended to ensure that militias like the Minutemen would be available to fight an invading army, NOT their own government. The response to Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 and to the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794 by Madison (supported by Washington, Adams and others) further solidified that the context was to put down insurrectionists against their own government – not to attack their own government. Only in that paranoid, self-deluding fantasy world inhabited by the dolts in the Tea Party is the “armed against their own government” interpretation embraced. Certainly not in American history. You have no idea of who the Redcoats were and about whom Jefferson and his contemporaries were concerned.

    • Matt Sullivan

      You seem to have no idea that the colonies were a part of the British empire, and that they were, in fact, armed against their own government.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1406257492 Mike Webber

        Hence, Jefferson and his contemporaries were not forming the government that they wanted to see torn down as some patriotic duty.

        • Matt Sullivan

          “So look, I know how important guns were in winning that war, but we promise you won’t ever need them ever again. Cross our hearts.”

  • Jay_Hawkeye

    You and I grew up in the same area about 20 years apart and have such a differing view of the world. I grew up about 20 minutes north of DC in the suburbs of Annapolis. No we didn’t have the Beltway sniper, we simply had DC “the murder capitol of the world”, even with it’s handgun ban. My parents didn’t have “code Red” drills, they had drills in the 50′s for nuclear attack. I grew up expecting the Russian army to invade any day (see movies like Red Dawn that played on those feelings).

    My loss of that safe feeling was when I was a teen, our house (in a neghborhood similar to OP) was broken into by bad men (for the first of 3 times-we were away for the other 2). The sanctuary of my home was destroyed. They took many of things of value and my dad’s wallet out of his pants hanging on the end of the bed. How did we respond? My dad and brother slept with loaded revolvers on their beds. I learned to never feel safe, I still sleep lightly in case someone breaks in. My security now is the gun I keep on my nightstand, ready to go. I do not feel depressed, or anxious, I simply see that some humans are not civil and those people must be met with force or they will take from you by force. I am willing to protect myself and my family by any means necessary. I will gladly rot in jail before allowing my wife or children to come to harm, while I did nothing to protect them. I will have my concealed carry before the end of this year, in case I end up traveling to a place like DC and make a wrong turn (Stephanie Kuhen). The 2nd amendment makes me and my family safe, and people like you fail to see that the best defense is being ready, not waiting 20 minutes or more for police to arrive so they can take pictures of my injured or dead family.

    The difference between you and I is that you blame the tool for your fear and not the people who did it. The world is not a safe place and never has been, realizing that is a part of growing up. You can either get strong and find a way to defend yourself and those you love, or claim to be a victim lamenting the childish sense of security you had (that was never truthful).

    • fiddleback

      Again, where do you see him blaming “the tool?” He even said, “But the sniper had a right to own his gun; no one could deny that.”

      And at the end, he mainly laments the lack of an adequate mental health support system. My reading is that he *is* more afraid of these psychopaths who kill without cause or motive, but that the ability for anyone to get a cheap handgun or semi-automatic, not only legally but illegally, is making the problem even worse.

      And how convenient to assume that a gun on the nightstand is a cure-all for anxiety disorders. Congrats on the solution being so simple for you. Meanwhile, it seems grotesquely arrogant and judgmental to spout such “get strong” bromides to a person so deeply disturbed by these random slaughters, but with the courage to open up about it.

      • Jay_Hawkeye

        THe comment abou tthe “tool” was in reference to his idea that conceal carry would cause children to be in fear in OP. THis has no basis in fact. You would never know a conceal carry holder -it is hidden. If he suddenly became afraid because he just realized there ARE CCW holders, then his previous state of mind was the irrational state.
        I am glad he was able to talk openly – do you give me the same respect for openly sharing my fears? My comment was how I OVERCAME my fears – having the sancity of your home desecrated can be extremely traumatic. My solution worked for me. It was the tough love of my parents that strengthened me. Much like calouses strengthen hands, so too can your mind be strengthened. Not encouraging someone to reach down deep and harden themselves when needed is avoiding the issue and not helping that person at all. See the mass murders who maybe needed this kind of tough love so they can understand the reality that is life is difficult for EVERYONE. You just need to learn to deal with it as it comes.

  • David Cohn

    Great column Will! Some folks don’t remember things past the last news cycle. I have a friend who raised kids not far from Centerville and the sniper was and IS a very real part of their everyday life. On an aside, nice work by Mike W. regarding the first sentence of he second amendment…the one that is so conveniently forgotten by “second amendment” backers.