Growing up, my mother would tell me stories of how she survived years of gun violence and genocidal civil war in Guatemala. I remember swallowing, hard, as she recalled the deaths of friends and loved ones caught between the fire of rebel groups and a corrupt government. In my mind’s eye, I could see the faraway streets littered with bullet casings; I could smell the smoky air and hear the echoey whispers of gunshots.
As I listened to these stories, I remember feeling profoundly grateful for my safety. In those days, I was still young and safely sheltered among evergreen trees in a small suburb outside of Seattle, Washington. I was lucky enough to not yet understand the real meaning of violence. Whenever these stories made me feel afraid, all I had to do to pacify my anxious thoughts was repeat a simple mantra: the United States is safe. That danger is far away. I don’t have to worry.
Though I acknowledge my privilege of having grown up in what felt like a safe, non-violent community, it didn’t take long for my perceptions of the United States to change. Growing older while hearing news of shooting after shooting made me quickly realize just how wrong I had been.
Over the course of my lifetime, words like “Columbine,” “Sandy Hook,” and “Virginia Tech,” have become notorious for what happened there. After each shooting we come together as a country to briefly mourn these unwarranted deaths, and some chastise our lax gun laws while others say more people should be able to carry to protect from those who would do us harm. But then we return back to our normal lives and these important issues get swept under the rug. So far, nothing has really changed. But while gun violence statistics in the United States are unremarkable when compared to developing countries such as Guatemala, the rates of gun deaths in this country remain significantly worse than in any other developed nation in the world.