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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Gun violence has changed us


Nicole Benedicto Elden, a psychologist, in Manhattan on March 21, 2023.

By Christina Caron


Michelle Allen is still learning how to cope nearly three years after her only child, Nicholas Isaac, 23, was shot and killed inside a bike store in the New York City borough of Brooklyn.


Her son, known to his friends and family as Nico, was a painter and tattoo artist who had recently purchased his first electric bike, Allen said. On a hot day in July, he got into an argument with a man at the bike store. The man eventually left, but later returned — this time with a gun. He shot Isaac multiple times.


“It’s hard,” said Allen, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and now prefers to avoid social gatherings. “I just feel like being in my home is safer for me.”


Her story is one of more than 600 responses we received after asking readers whether the threat of gun violence has affected their mental state or the way they lead their lives.


Some readers said the sheer number of shootings in America had left them numb or resigned. A more sizable group described feeling frustrated, angry and helpless. Some said they now avoided crowded events and public transportation, scanned public venues for nearby escape routes or stayed at home more often. A handful said they had moved to different cities or even to another country to try to escape the threat.


Fear was a unifying thread, regardless of whether someone had directly encountered gun violence.


In 2021, homicides and suicides involving guns reached their highest rates in three decades — deaths that disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic communities. Mass shootings, though only a fraction of the number of gun murders nationwide, are also on the rise. And guns are now the No. 1 cause of death among American children and teenagers.


The emotional toll is hard to quantify. One survey, conducted by the Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association, found that more than 7 in 10 adults cited gun violence as a significant source of stress. Women, Latinos and Black people were most likely to give this response.


The comments here, edited and condensed for clarity, do not represent the full picture of how Americans feel today, but they tell a story of people who are grappling with a weighty threat, both real and imagined.


VOICES


“As a gay man, the Pulse nightclub shooting greatly affected me. I never have been much of a bar person, but ever since then, when I am in a gay establishment, I look for the nearest way out in the event of a shooting. Even at work, I wonder if my desk would provide enough space for me to hide — or should I just make a run for it?”

PATRICK HAMILTON, Palm Springs, California


“I live in Texas, so it’s not an exaggeration to say I think about gun violence every time I leave my home. I doubt I’ll ever go to a very large gathering ever again. When I go to church, I think about the safest place to run or hide in the sanctuary.”

JULIE, 65, Austin, Texas


“Gun violence is no longer on my mind because we left the U.S. The reality of gun violence was a primary motivation to leave. We lived in Tucson when the mass shooting occurred and had personal connections to those victims as well as to first responders. We also have family in El Paso who had connections to the victims of the shooting there. Since Sandy Hook, I have developed a sense of apathy. I am not proud of this. And if nothing changed to protect our children, then nothing will change.”

SHARI GOETTEL, 59, Bombarral, Portugal


“Luckily, our town hasn’t experienced a mass shooting. Yet. In the last week alone there were two instances in which students brought guns to my sister’s school with the intent to ‘shoot it up.’ Multiple schools in the county went on lockdown. I’m absolutely terrified, and our quaint little country town is forever shaken. Every morning I wake up and ask, ‘Am I next?’ or even worse, ‘Is my little sister next?’”

HALEY D’OLIER, 15, Santa Rosa, California


“I don’t go into Kansas City anymore unless I absolutely have to for medical care. I am very conscious in stores. I travel with a handgun on my trips back and forth to our second home in Colorado. I have biometric gun safes in several places in my home so I can safely access a gun without fear of my grandkids gaining access to it.”

ROBERT CARL BRENNAN, 64, Louisburg, Kansas


“I am consumed by the worry and threat of gun violence. As an Asian American psychologist, and with the rise of anti-Asian hate, it has been a very personal concern but also a professional one. Scores of my Asian and Asian American clients have experienced racial-bias-related verbal and physical assaults. I am also a mother of a 19-year-old, and so my worries are even more compounded. I have been more overtly protective with my child and have role-played what to do if suspicious people are encountered. My husband has been thinking of the possibility of buying Mace as our child studies in NYC now.”

NICOLE BENEDICTO ELDEN, 51, Westchester County, New York


“What happened in Uvalde, Texas, had me losing sleep for weeks. I have two small kids. One is in school. What worries me the most is gun violence happening at her school. To cope with those thoughts and feelings, I talk with my family, cry sometimes and just try to move on with my day.”

TESSA MARTINEZ, 27, Phoenix


“When it comes to gun violence, we often see or hear about the victim and the person who did it, but not much more. I think we need to be looking more at the root causes.”

REV. GEOFFREY GUNS, Norfolk, Virginia


“My 23-year-old son was shot and killed in broad daylight in a commercial business. Coping is difficult, and I am still figuring out my triggers. I feel helpless, like how come I couldn’t save my only child? And why is his killer not caught? I also feel guilty if I am laughing or just having a good day. Sadness, anger and depression are daily battles. I was diagnosed with PTSD, so daily activities are hard to complete. I struggle to fall asleep and have gained weight by finding solace in food. I rarely leave the house and will just leave to go to work or participate in a community event to bring awareness to gun violence. I no longer care about my appearance. Most of the time I just wear my son’s sweatpants or his T-shirts.”

MICHELLE ALLEN, New York City

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