Putting a face to gun violence

When people ask me how my freshman year was I will tell them it was bookended by tragedy and death. Not the peaceful death my 84-year-old grandfather, Poppy, experienced when he passed away on New Year’s Day 2013, but shocking deaths of young, brilliant people whose last moments were that of gun violence.

On the day of my first final for fall semester, I was awoken to the news that a shooter had entered an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and murdered 26 students and teachers. The day was December 14, right in the midst of the holiday season. Though I did not know a single person injured or killed in the incident as I read the news I began to break down and cry. I sobbed all day — even during my exam.

I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that someone unaffiliated with the school could be able to take away the lives of innocent people. In the following days and weeks later I watched as politicians mobilized, pundits debated and the news media continued to find new angles of the story. It seemed like some change in our country’s gun regulation would be made.

I finished my finals and flew back home to Chicago. I remember sitting in LAX next to a mother and her young daughter who was in first grade. I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that a girl that small was the same age of the students murdered at Sandy Hook. I felt sick, but at least I would be able to go home and spend time with family.

The first night I returned home I hung out with friends from high school. One of those friends was Kevin Ambrose. Kevin and I had met in high school, and had hit it off right away. He was always an ear to listen, a voice of reason and a great person to get advice from. We bonded over our love for Kanye West. We hung out multiple times during break.

Toward the end of my winter break, the media no longer shouted and screamed about the tragedies at Sandy Hook. The next tragedy had already infiltrated the news cycle. I got back on a plane again and began my second semester.

Like my first one, it was exciting and full of new experiences. Spring semester I worked as a news editor at the Daily Trojan, so I was in charge of putting the news on the front page everyday. I was both enamored and overwhelmed by the responsibility, but during the semester eventually I got into my stride. As the semester wound down, I knew I was going to miss the DT but I looked forward to going home and spending time with friends once again.

The day before finals for spring semester began, I sat in a library studying and talking to my editor about how successful the semester was for the newspaper, particularly with social media. I was on Twitter, light-hearted and optimistic. Then I scrolled down my timeline and my heart dropped. Someone had tweeted: KEVIN AMBROSE IS DEAD.

Even as I write this blog post today I don’t believe that I read those lines. It wasn’t possible. I was just talking to him yesterday. We made plans for the Saturday that I returned to Chicago as we always did. However because of another person who felt they could take a life away, Kevin was dead, just mere days before Mother’s Day.

With the Sandy Hook tragedy I cried because it was unfathomable that such a crime could occur. With Kevin’s death I cried because this tragedy of gun violence that has already afflicted so many people in this country had touched my life. I felt sick. I felt confused. I was grieving once more.

In the days following May 7, 2013, I continually wept as I watched Chicago news stations report on the Kevin’s murder and the subsequent arrest of his killer. I read articles where his mother was interviewed the day before Mother’s Day. I saw my peers pay their respects to Kevin on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook. I knew he was gone, but all of it felt too surreal.

It wasn’t right. A 19-year-old should not be killed by random violence walking to meet a friend at the train station. A parent should not dread sending their child to school because they’re fearful they won’t come back home. No one should be affected by this violence. Yet everyday as I read the morning’s headlines I see that this is occurring in all pockets of the country and the world.

And still the media is largely silent. The reports on gun violence do not stretch past the day after the incident has occurred. And that is wrong.

Therefore as I finish up my first year at the University of Southern California, I am at a loss for words. On paper, this year was a success. I performed academically well, met many new friends, traveled to unique places and found a true passion for journalism.

Yet my excitement cannot outweigh the grisly fact that everyday the future is being wiped away by our fears to regulate guns. Everyday as children are silenced because we don’t talk about our cities’ problem with violence and crime. If you’re serious about change like I am, reach out to your local politicians by writing them, lobbying them and demanding that they regard this as a top priority. Tell them that this cannot go on.

I don’t want anyone else’s school year to be bookended with gun violence.

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