Webber: Guns bring fear to everyday life
- Jan. 21, 2013
- 11 Comments
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 journalism and political science major from Prairie Village. Read more from Will Webber.