Under the Gun: Guest Columnist Rachel Young on guns and our sense of normalcy

Photo by Paco Nichols

Content Warning: 2017 Attack at Transy

Last April, I was present during an attack on Transylvania’s campus. While I have mostly recovered from the trauma inflicted on me and the campus community eleven months ago (thanks to counselors, incredible friends, and the gift of time), I don’t often share publicly about my experience. It’s uncomfortable; it upsets me; and it often falls upon the ears of those who are unprepared to support me. Today, I am choosing to break that silence in solidarity with students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and their counterparts all over the country who have witnessed unimaginable violence in their schools. The fact is, not a day goes by that I don’t think about the horrific scene I witnessed last spring. On days that the news is filled with stories of survivors of violence (and of those who were not so lucky) on other schools’ campuses, I feel this trauma in new ways.

When I hear of children being gunned down in their schools, chills rush over my body as my mind transports me back to Jazzman’s Café on the morning of April 28th. I situate myself with my blueberry muffin and banana in a booth with some classmates who are working with me on a group project. When I see the door open to my right, I glance up, hoping to see a familiar face. The face that looks back at me beneath an American flag bandana is that of Mitchell Adkins, a familiar face, indeed. It takes all of three seconds for my mind to register that the fact that Mitchell (who had left Transy the year before) is carrying a duffel bag means bad news for all fifty people in the coffee shop that day. My mind running a mile a minute, I glance up at him as I try to covertly dial 911 on my cell phone. Then, as he begins to loudly demand everyone’s attention, he reaches into his duffel bag and pulls out a hatchet and a machete. Though I know I must still escape this situation, a peculiar sense of relief washes over me.

Almost a year later, this sense of relief disturbs me. I recognize it now for its alarming reality: in the midst of my terror, I was relieved that the man threatening me and my classmates was ONLY brandishing massive blades instead of the assault rifle I had come to expect. In a split second, my brain instinctively calculated the possible carnage this man and his weapons were capable of and told me that I would probably be safe. Thankfully, my instincts were right, and I survived with only psychological scarring.

However, as many people chose to point out to me in the aftermath, if Mitchell had been carrying an assault rifle that morning like I thought he was, I would most likely be gone. In recent weeks, I have caught myself wondering why in the hell he wasn’t carrying an assault rifle. Absolutely nothing (aside from, perhaps, finances) was preventing this 19-year-old, notoriously aggressive political extremist from stopping off and buying an AR-15 on his way to campus that morning. Nothing but the grace of God, or luck, or random chance stands between me and the victims of countless school shootings across the US. This fact keeps me awake at night.

Last weekend, I chose to take part in the March for Our Lives to advocate for stricter gun control laws to make it more difficult for criminals who intend to launch an attack (like the one that has deeply affected my life, and the lives of many in this community) to attain deadly assault rifles. In no way do I support a government entity coming to take anyone’s hunting rifles away, but I do believe that common sense gun laws are a non-partisan issue. I must commend the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for so quickly turning their trauma into action. May the rest of us follow their lead. Enough is enough.

This piece is part of Under the Gun, a Rambler feature series on gun control & gun culture in the wake of mass shootings and the March for Our Lives. Read the other parts of the series here.