I live in a country where gun crime is so low due to fire arms being illegal. Now, I’m not saying that people don’t have guns in the UK, because history and the news will tell us otherwise.
But I have never experienced the true terror that surrounds them until I visited Chicago, USA on the 4th July 2015.
My friends and I decided to walk down to the Navy Pier as it was publicised as the best viewing spot for the Independence Day fireworks display. So, in order to secure prime seats on the waterfront we set off early and sat down right on the edge of the pier next to the water.
We sat and talked as we ate our dinner and as more people gathered we made friends with a small boy named Sincere who kept us entertained (being only a year old is clearly fun) and a nine year old girl named Kim who was visiting with her aunt. The atmosphere around us was superb as everyone was relaxing and discussing where people were visiting from, until we saw a mass panic of people running out of a nearby building shouting “gun, gun, get down, everybody get down”
We all instinctively lay face down on the ground as people threw their belongings and ran shouting for their children, cried into concrete and held onto each other for support and protection. The experience was terrifying.
The police arrived at the scene straight away and started to organise the crowds, by this point as we looked around we could see people’s belongings strewn across the floor; mobiles, blankets and a sea of terrified faces.
After a while we sat together in confusion as the atmosphere turned from terror to bewilderment. Thankfully the gunshot that people had heard was in fact a firecracker that had been set off and the person was arrested straight away (at least that is what we were told).
We were incredibly fortunate that it was just a firecracker and not a gun and the relief on people’s faces helped to confirm our safety as the feeling was contagious. Overall, it was a day of mixed emotions as some people had left in fear and others (like us) stayed on to watch the fireworks.
But what intrigued me the most was how people handled the aftermath. Humans are incredibly resilient and deal with situations in diverse ways in order to process their emotions and compartmentalise memories… and each human is different. Some people turned to humour which lifted our spirits, some chose to ignore it and discuss something else and some were quick to associate the situation to a terror attack as that is what they thought was happening. Fortunately when I heard about the gun, I assumed that it was just a madman, but this was a country that had suffered a terrorist attack on a grand scale.
Since this experience I quite often reflect on The Bill of Rights Act: The right to keep and bear arms, as I can’t imagine owning a gun or even firing one in order to defend myself. I have no right to say whether owning a gun is right or wrong, but surely it can’t be healthy when 500 people panic at the sound of a firecracker… surely not.