“We don’t have to live like this, we don’t have to DIE.”
Gun violence in America has become so frequent that the common use of the phrase “sending thoughts and prayers” has lost its meaning. Everytown, an organization for Gun Safety, reports that in the United States “Every day, more than 100 Americans are killed with guns and 200 more are shot and wounded.” What some don’t understand is how gun violence has the power to affect anyone, anywhere, at any time, despite race, gender, or age. Americans have grown to know mass shootings too well due to the nation’s history with them. Youth are affected by all types of gun violence from school shootings, mass shootings, suicides, gang violence, etc. Young people in America don’t just face one specific type of gun violence but all varieties. According to the Trace, a non profit gun-related journalism website, 20 American children are shot every day. Gun violence can not be reduced significantly without the government stepping in on a federal level.
With the millions of movements and protests that have taken place from 2018-2020, many of them being organized by the youth, the government has still managed to ignore Americans’ cries for gun control. Mass shootings are common in the U.S. but 2018 was a very tough year for Americans after having to undergo so many tragic mass shootings such as the Parkland shooting, Sante Fe shooting, Marshall County High School shooting, Sal Castro Middle School shooting, etc. As reported by the Washington Post, 2018 was deadlier for school children than deployed service members. As said before by James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Now you will be left with a decision. Will you be the person who is silenced and who never tried, or will you be the one to change the world?
It has become a scary reality to think about how “gunfire has officially overtaken car accidents as one of the leading killers of young people in the United States,” says Chelsea Parsons, author of the article “America’s Youth is Under Fire.” School shootings have become 57 percent of teens’ biggest fears according to AmericanProgress.org. Everytown research states that three million American children witness gun violence every year. Due to teens’ current day ties to gun violence, enduring such violence can lead to “‘negative short and long-term psychological effects, including anger, withdrawal, posttraumatic stress, and desensitization to violence,’” says Julie Collins, as mentioned on the article by J Garbarino titled “Mitigating the Effects of Gun Violence on Children and Youth.”
These drastically high rates of gun violence have started new anxieties for our youth especially while in school. Not only are children who are exposed to gun violence, explains Everytown, more likely to develop anxiety but they’re more exposed to depression and posttraumatic stress disorder; resort to aggressive and violent behavior; and engage in criminal activity. Adults are often blind to the impact that this new gun-related anxiety is having on their children. Not only does suppressed gun-related trauma affect one’s mental health but one’s physical health as well. This is caused by the fear and unlikelihood of youth going outside due to this fear of gun violence. This trauma also results in poor student performance due to stress induced by gun violence. Gun violence-related trauma should never be shrugged off or belittled, because this trauma very much clouds our youths’ minds, endangering their mental and physical health for future days to come.
Suppressed Gun Violence-related Trauma in Melanie Diaz
News Outlets Cover the shooting:
Melanie Diaz, my twenty-year-old cousin, is a victim of suppressed gun violence-related trauma after encountering her adopted brother shot in the back on their family home driveway. On September 12, 2019 at around 12 a.m. Diaz was at home accompanied by her boyfriend, middle brother, and younger brother. Diaz recalls her brothers both being asleep while she was awake with her boyfriend Kelvin. While reliving the night during this interview, Diaz shares having this “gut feeling that Kelvin should stay home.” She couldn’t quite put her finger on why she felt this way but she just did, insisting he stay longer. Moments later the Diaz’s neighbor, a very close family friend to the family, Justin, came in and told the bunch that their adopted brother, Jermey Cruz, had just been shot in the back. Diaz and the rest were in disbelief but soon came to realize the severity after taking a look at Justin, realizing he’d come into their house in his underwear. Diaz recalls her boyfriend being the first to run outside and the rest following, witnessing “Jeremy laying there in the driveway.” They proceeded to call the police and drive to the hospital where their brother was immediately taken in for surgery. Diaz explains how she and her brothers tried to continue their lives regularly by going to school, she was an at the time sophomore in college and Christopher in his senior year of high school, but neither could. Months following the shooting Melanie describes the trauma she and her immediate family now face.
She describes the disbelief they were in due to the town they reside in, Lodi, New Jersey, being predominantly white, Diaz describes never thinking something like this could happen there. Lodi, New Jersey having “no type of violence or any gun reports in years” she explains. “It was hard having to see that driveway every time we went outside or even just to sit at the porch. Whenever we walked to the driveway we all felt this sort of back pain where Jermey got shot, none of us wanted to leave the house yet we didn’t feel safe in our own home anymore.” Diaz goes into describing how she and her brother Christopher didn’t feel like going out anymore and if they did they wouldn’t stay out till dark due to this new grown anxiety.
Diaz describes how her entire family was affected but she feels her middle brother, Christopher, was the most distraught of the bunch due to having shared a room with Jermey and feeling empty because of Jeremy’s long stay at the hospital. Jeremy was later told that he was paralyzed from the waist down which Diaz describes to have taken a toll on his mental health the following months. “He’s a fighter,” she says, “he has his mind sent on getting his life back on track and helping others affected by gun violence and doesn’t plan on letting these circumstances affect him.” She says they felt as if they’d lost their brother but seeing Jeremy’s personal bravery gave them the strength to give him the support he needed. The long term effects, Diaz goes into describing, how their family now felt this problem of having “trust issues” due to the shooter having been a friend of hers. Diaz describes the shooter as a “family person never involved with violence of any sort” that she was made aware of. Melanie’s mom, my aunt, set new ground rules for the family including curfew and becoming strict on who could be let into their home.
The Diaz family was expected to go on as normal, this affecting their family’s entire life. This tragic event pinpoints how shootings can occur, anywhere, at anytime, to anyone, and the immense damage, mentally and physically, that having such suppressed trauma can cause people.
Suppressed Gun Violence-related Trauma in Shailyn Lara
Silive news outlet covers Susan Wagner High School Hard Lockdown
It was a normal day at Susan Wagner High School, Shailyn Lara recalls. She was in her sixth period living environment class when all of the sudden she heard the loud speaker go off with “Attention we are now going into a hard lock down. Please proceed with protocol.” Lara says “at that moment I felt like time went still and everyone was trying to make sense of it because it didn’t feel real in a sense.” This happens everyday in our country, Lara goes on to explain, but she and her peers never thought it would happen at their school. She remembers being terrified and thinking she would die. After the panic wore off a bit, Lara soon realized that this lockdown wasn’t a drill, it was a HARD lockdown. She began saying her goodbyes. She texted her mom, her step dad, her sister, and her best friend. She texted them all that she loved them and didn’t know if she’d make it out alive. They all tried to comfort her and assure her that everything would be okay but she explains how death at this point “felt inevitable.”
Lara is someone who suffers from severe anxiety and depression so she surely began to have, as she explains “the worst panic attack of her life” while crying at her desk. Thinking about all the things she’d never get to do, see her family again or graduate high school. The lockdown was lifted and it was later explained to Shailyn and her peers that “it was a kid who had only ‘heard’ someone say they had a gun, but it was still the worst day of my life.”
The trauma Lara faced while she was still attending school in person was terrible. She described to me that whenever she would “hear an announcement on the loudspeaker, I got so much anxiety and tried to prepare for yet another hard lockdown announcement. My PTSD got worse every day having to walk into those school doors.” Lara explains how quarantine has its perks like online school, giving her the chance to recover from her PTSD. With help from friends and family, Lara has been able to go on with normal day to day activities and slowly recover.
It’s important for victims of suppressed gun violence-related trauma to know that it is possible to overcome such trauma. Recovery is possible. It’s imperative that both survivors and supporting peers know that these survivors can talk about it whenever they’re ready and for them to feel like you’re honoring their feelings. Ultimately, it’s crucial to get involved. Everytown for Gun Safety explains, “After a tragedy, many people feel called to action so other people don’t feel the pain of gun violence as they have. Just like Everytown for Gun Safety, there are community groups that work to make the community a safer place for everyone.” As Peter A. Levine once said, “Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”