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Nina Perez's picture

When I was ten years old, my parents made the decision to start their own business—a bodega (a small Latin grocery store) in Little Havana, FL. After years as an introverted child, this Cuban stomping ground was where I first came out of my shell. I played with neighboring children, went to Carnival with family, and had my first crush on a boy. When I wasn’t at school I was at the bodega. It became our home in every way, and I felt safer there than I did in the Miami Dade suburbs.

On one Friday night, my Mom got my older sister and I ready to go home while my father stayed to finish some work. Manny, the Assistant Manager and a family friend, walked us out to the car. Before we could even make it there, we saw a man relieving himself in the corner of the lot. He had apparently just left a neighboring bar and his friends were waiting for him in a truck. My mother was at the door about to take us back inside when Manny walked up to the man, telling him that he needed to leave. They exchanged some words and Manny walked back to us, everything appearing to be fine. But then the man got into the car, rolled his window down, and pulled out a gun. I was staring straight at the gun as my mom pushed my sister and I through the store door and threw us on the ground.  I heard the gun shot. Despite the man’s drunken state, he still managed to shoot Manny in his hip. I remember my mother pulling Manny into the store by herself, while everyone else was paralyzed with fear. I remember a stranger holding me as my mother spoke to Manny, my father calling the police, and my aunt picking me up to stay with her for the night. I spent the rest of that night crying in my cousin’s bed while I watched The Princess Bride for the first time, sandwiched between two dogs, wondering if Manny would still be alive the next day. After weeks of recovery, he pulled through, but none of us ever felt safe at the store again.

When I tell my pro-gun friends this story their automatic response is, “if one of you had a gun you could have protected yourselves.” The funny thing is that more than one employee did in fact own a gun, including Manny himself. Owning a gun didn’t make him or any of us safer. In fact, I’m insulted by ads like the one below that place the responsibility of safety on the victims of violence. As a ten-year-old girl, I didn’t want to hold a gun—I wanted to go to school, make friends, and have fun. The second a child has to worry about their safety they are essentially no longer children.

More guns are clearly not a solution to the problem, and I find it difficult to accept that the Senate voted against the expansion of background checks for gun purchases. Do our lawmakers really believe that meeting force with force will make the victims of gun related violence feel safer?

For the short time my family still had the bodega after the shooting, I was no longer allowed to spend my weekends there. Instead, I spent my weekends at my aunt’s house. I lost more than just my sense of safety; I lost my friends and my community as well. I remember feeling scared for so long, and I didn’t even need to return to the place where the shooting occurred. This is what comes to my mind when a school shooting occurs. It doesn’t end with the tragic circumstances surrounding the acts of violence, but continues to have a long-term impact on its survivors. I would ask our lawmakers to think about what it must be like for children and teachers to go back to their schools where they can no longer claim to feel safe, and have to continually confront the memories of their trauma. No child or adult should ever have to feel the loneliness and fear that comes from experiencing violence.

There are those who say it’s their civil right to be able to defend themselves with a gun, but what about a child’s right to feel safe from violence? Owning a gun won’t guarantee your safety or a child’s safety, but proper background checks can help prevent criminals, abusers, and the mentally ill from pulling that trigger.

This post is part of the project, "Sorrow, Anger, ACTION! - A Gathering of Voices Against Gun Violence," organized by MomsRising, PICO Network, UltraViolet, Children's Defense Fund and the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

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