Dear America, 
I’m an American. I’m a white woman born and raised and living in the southeast US. I’m an educator. I’m married, and I’m childfree. I have two pets. I shamelessly love drag queens, sweet tea, The Doobie Brothers and musical theatre.
And I have also personally experienced gun violence three times.
I ran for my life on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Right before I ran, I had learned that “the shooter is on his way to Burruss”, which is the building where I worked. That was false. He was actually on his way to the building next door, Norris, where he continued his spree that had already killed two, making the total 32, plus the 17 shot and injured. Still, at the time, I heard “Burruss” and that’s it. I don’t remember the next moments. Time and history eventually helped me piece it together.
But that is the story a lot of people have heard before. Here’s another:
The first week of school, that same year as the mass shooting, started with another shooting on campus.
August 21, 2006 was the day my high school friend broke out of prison, shot, and killed, a Blacksburg police officer on a hiking trail on campus. I was in my office in Burruss Hall, and I remember a version of “lockdown” that we naively found out about via interoffice communication, not social media, not a siren or text alert. I somehow found out who it was, and I’m assuming because I knew the prisoner, and he might know me, it was suggested I receive a police escort back to my car to go home. I accepted the suggestion and a very nice campus police officer walked me to my car.
I remember thinking, over and over, “What in the world is up with this day and guns?”
That was because years earlier on another August 21, in 1999, when I was a student myself a Virginia Tech, my friend Cory purchased a gun and took his own life with it on that same day. That day has haunted me.
Since 1999, and after being harshly reminded again in 2006 and 2007, and countless other times since, I have often thought “What is up with guns? Period.”
Dear America, We have a population that cares more about guns than lives. Spin that how you want, but it's true. Sure, people were motivated to do the killing. And people did the killing. I get that. I fully get that point. People did kill my friends and coworkers.
But y’all, the guns were there too.
And until my own dying breath, (which I personally fear on a daily basis will be the result of a gun in the hands of someone who wants to kill), I’ll wonder what would have happened on those three days if the guns had not been there too.
Ashley Cohen