Is gun violence the new normal?

By Ruwan Teodros

Collegian File Photo
(Collegian File Photo)

The windows shook as we gathered around our teacher. She was reading a story from a children’s book, the name of which I cannot remember anymore.

I peered outside, losing focus on my teacher for a second. The windows kept shaking and our third grade minds began to question the shaking. It stopped after a while and class resumed, the vibrating glass becoming a minor blip on our radars. Teachers told us that a wrecking ball was demolishing a building nearby and that the construction workers had underestimated the effect it would have on our school building.

I arrived home after a long day only to find my mother holding a tissue to her face, blotting her eyes and staring open-mouthed at the television. My grandmother was in the kitchen, tears streaming down her face as she prepared my after-school meal. I found out from my grandmother that Rafik Hariri, a beloved ex-prime minister and Lebanese-Saudi businessman, had been assassinated, which explained the shaking windows that had shocked all of us earlier in the day. He died in a blast caused by explosives that were detonated as his car drove by the St. George hotel in central Beirut.

My innocence was shattered that day, as I watched my mother silently cry at the memorial and saw the country plunge into chaos as a result of the mystery behind his death. In the years that would follow, I would live through two wars and multiple explosions, learning to appreciate every day because it could very well be my last.

Eleven years later, I am past reading children books and am now attending lectures with 300 people. On Feb. 18, an emergency campus-wide alert was sounded following a notification that two men allegedly armed with a hand gun had assaulted a resident of Pierpont Hall. A shelter-in-place was instituted, meaning that all students were advised to stay wherever they were. I was actually at the Collegian offices attending the weekly Opinion/Editorial meeting when many people began catching news of the assault and possibly presence of a weapon on campus.

My heart lurched, just like on that day when the windows shook. Or the day when I found out that a bomb had exploded right in front of my best friend’s mother’s workplace. Or the one-month long war during which my mother and I played snake on her phone in the dark because there was no electricity. I was afraid for my life, yet again, but was in a place that was so unlike the tumultuous atmosphere in which I grew up.

After the shelter-in-place had been lifted and people were allowed to file back to their dorms and resume their normal nightly activities, the realization dawned on me that we weren’t safe—not really.

This time around, we all got off unscathed. But Newsweek estimates that there were 45 school shootings in 2015. Forty-five times last year, a gun was actually drawn and lives were put in danger.

During the campus lockdown, Jemele Hill, a well-known ESPN personality, was at UMass to speak with a class taught by UMass professor and ESPN enterprise editor Jena Javoy.

Stuck in the shelter-in-place like the rest of us, she took to Twitter to describe her feelings on the incident.

“At ‪@UMassAmherst, where an armed shooter is on campus. In a classroom with the lights off,” Hill said. “Damn, the new normal.”

How right you are, Ms. Hill, how right you are.

Ruwan Teodros is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]