The One About Gun Violence

By Jack O’ Dwyer

Image: photos from protests edited together by me || Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office, RUETERS, Joe Raedle, GettyImages, Win McNamee, J. Scott Applewhite

Image: photos from protests edited together by me || Benjamin Kanter/Mayoral Photo Office, RUETERS, Joe Raedle, GettyImages, Win McNamee, J. Scott Applewhite

“I thought you were dead,” she said, sobbing tensely into my chest.

It was around 8PM, just over 24 hours since my university’s campus was on full lockdown due to a report of an active shooter. We were lying on my bed surrounded by empty take-out containers and clutching each other tight as if letting go would bring the crisis crashing back down around us. My girlfriend and I—both crying, now—did our best to soothe each other against the sudden onslaught of anxiety.

“I’d never leave you like that,” I said.

“You can’t promise that,” she replied.

A heavy pressure settled into the center of my chest. I felt ice begin to form in the pit of my stomach and creep its way up into my lungs. She was right, of course. I just didn’t know what else to say. Who does?

It’s hard to recall all the emotions that run through you when you’re trapped and fearing for your life. Hiding with six others in the dark, back corners of a conference room that didn’t lock, barricaded—we hoped, thoroughly—with chairs, I found myself staring down intensely at the khaki-and-green carpet as if trying to commit the pattern to memory. As if the next day I was going to go out and weave it on my own. I could feel the fear in the room like a frigid blanket, despite doing my best to repress it and keep the group calm.

“We’re going to be okay.” I whispered, “Just stay quiet.”

I can’t tell you if I truly believed that.

Inside our tiny windowless room, the situation was nothing short of surreal. My colleagues were getting calls from their concerned parents or frantically texting their friends outside for updates. A friend’s boyfriend’s boss fed us pieces of information via a police scanner. The gunman was on our campus. No, he was in the high school down the block. No, he was in our building on the floor just below us. The police set up a perimeter. SWAT members were standing, fully armed, in the quad. Was that noise from K-9 units or the sound of people screaming? What was Twitter saying?

It was only after I heard the sound of police radios in the stairwell that I realized I had been holding my breath. I felt like I was on another planet being floated back down to Earth as we descended the stairs into the lobby after the first call of all-clear. When we emerged from the building, I found myself surrounded by sobbing students, panicked family, and journalists from every major station in the city. My girlfriend ran up and nearly knocked me to the ground in a hug. We were alive—frightened and rattled beyond this dimension, but alive.

We later found out it was a mistake and the lockdown was simply a precaution.

While the situation, itself, was a false report, what we felt during the incident was nothing short of real. I still find myself jumping at the sound of doors slamming outside my room two days later. Friends of mine couldn’t sleep that night without seeing the insides of the utility closets they hid in. I can’t describe what it feels like to be afraid of the sound of an elevator.

My colleagues and I are the lucky ones—we were never truly in any danger. Regardless, no one wakes up in the morning and believes they’ll spend an hour fearing their school is the next site of a tragedy. No one wants to spend time combing through various news sites to get updates that feel like they hold blood weight.

No one wants to carry a door stopper around in their backpack.

I’m not a politician. I don’t have experience with gun legislation or ownership. I’ve never even held a firearm—let alone seen one fired in real life. I’m just a student who doesn’t want anything remotely close to what happened to me to happen anywhere else.

There have been a total of 272 mass shootings in the United States this year alone. That’s at least 1,088 people dead, according to the current definition of “mass shooting”. My university has 1,763 undergraduate students currently enrolled.

Something needs to change because what we’re doing now clearly isn’t fucking working.


Jeffrey, Courtland. “Mass Shootings in the U.S.: When, Where They Have Occurred in 2018.” ABC15 Arizona, ABC, 3 Oct. 2018,