When I was two years old, my three- and nine-year-old cousins were attending summer camp at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, Calif. A gunman opened fire on the community center, prompting children and teachers to hide in closets and cabinets and run for their lives. Five people were wounded, three of whom were children, and one man was killed. It was Aug. 10, 1999; the shooter was a white supremacist, and he carried a semi-automatic weapon.
In the second month of my freshman year at the University of Oregon, I received a text from campus police that Umpqua Community College was in an active shooter situation. I was put on lock down for two hours while the shooter was still at large. It was Oct. 1, 2015; nine people were killed and the shooter carried five handguns and a semi-automatic weapon.
This past Wednesday, my family received a text: “Dani is okay” was attached to an article titled “Active Shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.” I was driving in the car with my mom when I saw the blood drain from her face. He called my cousin, who answered the phone promptly and, through sobs, informed me that she was safe at Walmart with my aunt. Nineteen years later, my family was experiencing the same thing again. I watched the news on my phone — police and SWAT teams flooded the scene and painstakingly, slowly evacuated classrooms of children. Later we came to learn that the gunman had gone to Walmart and was mingling in the crowd at the same time that my cousin and her mother were there.
Through a stroke of luck, Dani had not been in her class at the moment the shooter entered that room. He killed four people in her classroom, including a beautiful girl who sat right in front of my baby cousin. It was Feb. 14, 2018, and 17 more innocent lives were taken by a man with a semi-automatic weapon.
I grew up in Parkland, Fla. If I walked across the street from my house and through my neighbor’s backyard, I would end up standing in front of MSD High School. I learned how to bike in front of that school, I watched my older cousins play soccer on its field, it was the high school all my cousins and friends attended and it was the high school I was supposed to attend.
Parkland is still my community, my family. My heart breaks for the pain and suffering the victims’ families and the survivors in my community are going through right now; it is a pain no one should ever have to feel. Ever.
I am now a student at the University of Southern California. Last week after the massacre, I didn’t attend class. I was grief-stricken, depressed and genuinely concerned for my own safety. Why should I be worried to step onto my campus, a place of learning, enrichment and growth? I asked my mom, “Why does my fear or opinion on the issue even matter?” She replied, “Ari, if it’s not you today, it might be you tomorrow.”
Each incident I described above involved a semi-automatic weapon. This is not about humans or race or gender. This pain is about guns. It is about the ridiculous ease of acquiring a weapon. It is about the fact that anyone can legally buy a semi-automatic weapon before they can buy a beer, cigarettes or a handgun. It is about the lack of background checks. It is about the silence from the National Rifle Association, and the disgraceful inaction of a government that clearly no longer serves its people. It is about a gun lobby so deeply entrenched in political corruption, and government leaders whose greed for money, power and status knows no limits. It is about grown men and women failing the children of our country. It is about politicians so blinded by their own greed they are willing to turn a blind eye to the loss of innocent lives.
I stand with the people of Parkland. I stand with the people of Las Vegas. I stand with the people of Orlando and Sandy Hook and Umpqua and Virginia Tech and University of Texas and Columbine High School and the other countless communities affected by our governments’ selfishness and irresponsibility. Be sure to understand, they do not stand with us.
To the President of the United States, I urge you to try to be the President you so often boast that you are. Embrace what public service truly means. Make a change. Actually make America great.
And friends and future leaders, when the President fails to do so, I urge you to call your representatives, make your voice heard and vote them out of office. Let us be the generation that changes this. Let’s make America safe again.
Ban military assault-style weapons and write common sense, stricter gun control legislation.