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The Collective Trauma of the Close Call

When we think about the traumatic effects of gun violence in society, we often think about the number of people killed, shot or wounded by guns. In 2023, the United States experienced 18,854 gun deaths and over 36,000 injuries. We think about the survivors, their families, the grief that ripples through communities in the aftermath of a violent incident. We picture the families standing outside of schools, waiting to hear news about their loved ones inside.


What we don't focus on is how all of us, every day, live in the shadow of the possibility of these events, the "what ifs," and the close calls. The person who left King Soopers minutes before the shooting began. The almost unconscious way we scan a crowded venue to identify the closest exits. The anxiety and fear that clutches parents' hearts when we receive a nonchalant email about the day's lock down drill.


Recently, as I was prepping for a conference call during an ordinary Wednesday, I received a text that my children's school was on lockdown. I live a few blocks away, and began to hear the wail of sirens immediately after the text. The message from the school instructed us to stay away, but I couldn't. I half walked-half ran up the block, as armed officers surrounded our beloved school and ran inside, guns drawn. I couldn't breathe.

Over the next excruciating hour, we waited to learn what had unfolded: gun shots were fired at an intersection just outside of our school. In response, the school was placed in a "secure perimeter" status. Shortly after, a person called 911 to report a threat inside the building. The building was placed into full lockdown and Denver Police officers rushed in to conduct searches of the building. Armed officers in SWAT gear burst into the classrooms, lunch room, and storage closets where children hid, crouched and quiet. They have practiced this before.


The teachers and staff rose to the occasion with swiftness and professionalism. They kept the children calm and quiet. The police executed the search with urgency. No threat was ever inside

our building. No injuries were reported. Everyone was fine.


But, of course, nobody was fine. As we stood outside in a waiting area, cordoned off with police tape, for the "controlled release" of our children, anxious parents couldn't help imagining a different scenario. Children emerged from the school in tears. One of the first questions my 5 year old asked, upon seeing the police cars and ambulance, was, "did somebody die?" I had hoped that I could protect her, for a little bit longer, from the fact that somebody could die at school, but it seems that bubble has burst.


In 2024, we all live in close proximity to gun violence. It feels devastatingly unavoidable. Americans buy over 1 million guns per month; the United States has the highest gun ownership rate with 120 firearms per 100 people. We have become desensitized to the headlines as mass shootings occur on a near-daily basis. The incident at our school barely made the news: the stories and headlines, No injuries reported after shots fired near Denver school, feel woefully incomplete and hollow to those who were affected. And yet it continues to happen in every city, every day.


I hate the feeling that our children must inherit an ever more violent world because a few people

decided that a few words in the 2nd Amendment require it to be this way. I believe that it does not have to be this way. My only hope is the collective trauma of feeling this close to gun violence at all times – at school, at the movies, at the grocery store, at church or the synagogue – will eventually give way to something else. Until then, I will hug my children tight each morning

before I send them back inside those doors.

 

Laura Ratcliffe is Senior Counsel in the Government Section of Hanson Bridgett, a California-based law firm. She represents a variety of public and private entities in real estate, environmental, water, and municipal law matters. She handles various aspects of real property acquisition, particularly for large public infrastructure projects. She negotiates and drafts purchase and sale agreements, easements, and construction, financing, and license agreements. Laura moved to Denver from Los Angeles in 2017. She is the mother of three wonderful kiddos, and likes to run, hike, and explore new breweries.

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