Samantha Chavarria
December 14, 2018 8:00 am
Chelsea Guglielmino/FilmMagic

Here, an HG  contributor reflects on how the very real statistical possibility of dying in a mass shooting—and the government’s shameful inaction—has resulted in agoraphobia.

I don’t like large crowds or open spaces. Knowing this about myself, it might seem strange that one of my favorite places ever is Disney World. Sure, Disney World has some magical experiences, and visiting the amusement park is one of my family’s Thanksgiving traditions. But that’s not the reason I’m able to overcome my fears so I can spend time there.

When we visit the park every year, our bags are examined at the gate and we walk through metal detectors. On the other side, I can finally find relief because guns aren’t allowed inside Disney World.

This fear of eventually experiencing a mass shooting started as a subtle thing when I was pregnant with my third child. I remember gradually feeling less safe whenever I left the house. I was already spending most of my time at work or home because of my pregnancy, but whenever I did go out, I felt a nervousness I couldn’t rationalize, a sense of unease permanently on the outskirts of my consciousness. It felt like the world outside my front door was more dangerous than ever.

I chalked it up to being concerned about my impending delivery—no matter how often you give birth, it’s still nerve-wracking to bring a new life into the world. But there was a part of me that knew this anxiety was bigger than that.

Then there was a mass shooting at a theater in Aurora.

The people in the theater that day were simply eager to watch the next installment of The Dark Knight. Some of them were on dates. Others were just enjoying a day off. No one expected anything more than entertainment—and they had no reason to expect a massacre. At that moment in human history, in this country, no one rationally expected calamity around every corner. Gun violence had been steadily rising since the massacre at Columbine High School—the first major mass shooting I can remember—but it felt like, in 2012, we were still shocked by the gruesome murder of 12 innocent people at a movie theater.

The Aurora massacre was horrific, but we hadn’t even scratched the surface of the heartache that gun violence would continue to inflict.

Not even five months later, three days after I gave birth to my son, another devastating mass shooting occurred. This time, it was at a school in Connecticut: Sandy Hook Elementary. Days before students and teachers were to go on break for the winter holidays, 20 children and six adults were killed by another monster with an assault rifle.

I spent my maternity leave confined to my home. As my return-to-work date got closer, my anxiety grew. I’ve always been naturally anxious, so I tried to ignore my feelings by focusing on work goals for the new year. I threw myself into my job, pushing myself to take on roles I never would have considered before. I was digging myself into a hole I couldn’t climb out of.

A perfect storm of undiagnosed PTSD, anxiety, and depression resulted in me needing to leave my job so I could seek help for my mental illness. Once I left work, I became especially reclusive. I didn’t leave my house unless I had a doctor’s appointment. I was increasingly paranoid. My home had become my sanctuary, and I was too afraid of the what-ifs that existed outside my door.

Therapy and mental health care would help me put a name to my fear.

I’m agoraphobic, and the threat of becoming a mass shooting victim has changed how I view the world, and my place in it.

People with phobias are often considered ridiculous or irrational. However, the statistics behind gun violence would suggest that my fear is extremely reasonable.

A recent study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans are more likely to die from gun violence than from a car crash. In 2017, the gun death rate rose to 12.2 per 100,000 people. Car-related deaths only come in at 11.9 per 100,000.

Additionally, there were 328 mass shootings in 2018—or nearly one every day. These horrific acts of violence resulted in the loss of 365 lives and wounded 1,301 people.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun violence in schools is at the highest it has ever been. In 2018, there were 86 instances of guns being discharged on or around school grounds. This is a record high, and the largest number of school shootings since 2006.

With these numbers solidifying the very real danger of gun violence in our world, it’s—for lack of a better word—amazing that our government has done nothing to keep us safe.

While some states instituted new gun laws after the Parkland shooting on February 14th, 2018, we have seen no laws passed by the federal government to diminish gun violence. It’s obvious that this is not enough.

No one should have to fear being gunned down in their synagogue or church or school or local country music bar. No one should fear going to the hospital because they might get shot there. The fear of death by assault rifle should never accompany us to Bible study or to the theater or to the club or to a concert. No one should anticipate surviving one mass shooting just to survive—or die—in another. But until laws help us eliminate this possibility, the fear is all too real.

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