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People and Planet: The effects of growing up with mass shootings

I don’t know that I’ve ever written a column in first person before. As an editor, it's actually something I encourage writers not to do for the sake of professionalism. However, I also believe most people are hypocrites in one way or another. Thus, I am breaking my own rule here, hopefully for a good cause.

In the wake of the recent mass shooting in Maine and the growing excess of spineless loudmouths running our government who lack any shred of compassion, I would like to explain what it is like to have every year of your conscious and unconscious memory stained with the blood of innocents. I am 20 years old and I have grown up with mass shootings, something the lawmakers with AR-15 pins will never understand. 

Consider this an open letter to the conservatives in office who continue to prove how little they care about their constituents and how enamored they are with the way it feels when the NRA slides a hand down their pockets and leaves a wad of cash.

Dec. 14, 2012, I had just turned 10. I got home from school and turned on the clock radio in my room, probably hoping to hear “Somebody That I Used to Know” by Gotye or “Starships” by Nicki Minaj. Instead, I was informed that 20 six- and seven-year-olds and six teachers were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School

This was my first encounter with the reason behind all those lockdown drills I’d practiced throughout school. My mom would later tell me she wasn’t sure if she should talk to me about it or not, but I brought it up on my own. How are you supposed to explain that to a fourth grader?

Thirty mass shootings later was Pulse Nightclub, a gay club in Orlando. I was 14 and it happened the same night I was at a Pierce the Veil concert in Detroit. I often think about how one of the best nights of my life was the last night for 49 others who, like me, just wanted to have fun and feel like they belonged. It was the deadliest incident of violence against the LGBTQIA+ community in history. I remember waking up to the news and calling my dad to tell him I was scared, something I would rarely admit to at this point in time.

Twenty-two mass shootings after Pulse, I was freshly 15, and on Valentine’s Day of 2018, 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. This shooting made something shift deep within me that I can only describe as gears grinding together; metal ripping metal; a cold, dry screech. Most of the victims were freshmen in high school like me, and I had never seen so many of my classmates in the victims’ faces. I had never seen myself in them, or seen my dad – a high school teacher and coach – in the heroism of the teacher and coach who were murdered protecting their students. 

I stayed home the next day glued to the news when I learned there was a lockdown over a false alarm at my school. I had never been so glad to be sick. After this, I began scanning all of my classrooms for the best hiding places. But then, I thought, ”What if he opens the closet? Could I survive a jump out of a second-story window? Could I grab onto a tree branch?”

Sixty-five more mass shootings later it was 2021. Those gears began grinding again when two adults and 19 children were gunned down at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. This time the student victims were in my little sister’s grade. My sister: sweet, innocent, kind beyond what I have ever been capable of. I thought about how she learned to hide from shooters before she learned how to tie her shoes. I thought of all the life ahead of her and all the life that had been stolen from these children.

I wish I had the space to talk about all the others — music festivals, Walmarts, malls, movie theaters, clubs, universities and places of worship. All I can say is it often feels like it is closing in on me, a sentiment I know so many of my peers share. It doesn’t matter how low the chances are when we see more mass shootings and less effort from politicians every year. Whether you are a journalist, a student, riding public transit or enjoying a night out, you’re always subconsciously planning out how you would escape death if it decided to greet you in the form of a gun. 

I would say we need gun control now. I would wish that somebody would read this. I would wish someone would listen. But we are utterly helpless against semi-automatic rifles and the politicians who refuse to regulate them. 

Our government’s apathy toward mass shootings is unmatched, as many countries have had a mass shooting and immediately implemented stronger gun laws. For example, in 1996, 16 children and their teacher were shot in Scotland in the Dunblane Massacre, the largest mass shooting in British history. Almost immediately, handguns were banned and public access to guns was limited. There have only been two significant mass shootings committed by a British civilian since.

Our country has seen its deadliest mass shooting. Our country has seen more than 16 children die. Still, politicians do nothing.

Today I have avoided being one of the 1,389 people murdered in the mass shootings that have occurred since I was born. As you read this, someone is planning the next.

Megan Diehl is a junior studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views expressed in this column do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk to Megan about her article? Email her at

Megan Diehl

Assistant Opinion Editor

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