Like every Saturday night, I took the Girard Avenue exit from I-76 on my way home after work, stopping at the red light underneath the bridge right in front of the Philadelphia Zoo.
But this time, I heard a woman scream, followed by four gunshots; one of them sending a wave of vibrations through my car, piercing a hole through my trunk and ripping the fabric of the interior.
My heart started racing. For a moment, all traffic stopped, and only the scream continued. I tried to spot where the shots came from, seeing nothing but other cars’ headlights cutting through the dark.
And within seconds, life returned to normal. Shootings have become the new normal in the United States — and we’ve adapted to that.
There have been 22 school shootings so far this year, according to CNN, and we haven’t done much to solve the issue or prevent it from happening again.
Instead, CNN reported that the sale of bulletproof backpacks soared 200-300 percent in August back-to-school shopping, in response to recent mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas.
“This is just a way to make money off a tragedy. I wouldn’t buy it,” said Grant Gwiaszdowski, a sophomore mathematics and computer science major.
As a student, constantly on foot and not always shielded by four tons of metal, I see a huge need to protect myself on the go. Bulletproof backpacks are a useless bandage for a much larger and very persistent wound.
In light of last month’s threat of gun violence against Temple University, and the growing number of mass shootings in public places, I feel furious, frustrated and hopeless, and so do several other students.
Rachel Steinig, a junior political science at the University of Pennsylvania and the president of its March For Our Lives chapter, said that if she were younger and her parents bought her a bulletproof backpack, she would be terrified.
“The fact that so many parents feel the need to buy them is tragic,” she said. “This is not a solution for the problem.”
Indeed, it is not a solution.
Bulletproof backpacks would not have provided protection during recent shootings. While the backpack’s back panel stops a shot from a regular 9mm pistol, bullets from rifles used in recent mass shootings can pierce through, NBC News reported.
We need stricter laws, not equipment, to protect us.
“We need to address the problem, not the symptoms,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, an organization dedicated to ending gun violence in Pennsylvania.
Goodman said she would rather put her effort into advocating for a change than buying things like bulletproof backpacks.
“If we have the technology and the resources to create things such as bulletproof backpacks, we have the technology and resources to solve the problem,” Goodman added.
Small steps toward change have already been taken. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf passed an executive order in August, allowing for data collection, creating new state offices focused on violence prevention and tackling community violence.
Yet while many Pennsylvania officials are trying to act on gun violence, their hands are tied.
Thanks to preemption laws, regulations on municipalities that prevent them from enacting stronger gun legislation than their state, more than 40 states have restrictions on how severe local gun control policy can be, according to USA Today.
Therefore, change needs to happen on the federal level.
While people themselves cannot change the laws, they have the power to elect officials who can. For the students too young to vote and for all of us who are not citizens and cannot vote ourselves — be our voice.
If change isn’t enacted, what’s next? Bulletproof vests? Full-body armor being added to school uniforms?
“Talk to your legislators, write them why it is important to you,” Goodman said. “It is critical for elected officials to know they need to deal with this issue.”
Don’t let bulletproof backpacks be the answer to the problem and take the one action granted to you.
Go out and vote.