protect people not guns
Student participating in National Walkout Day at the White House, Washington, DC, in 2018. Photo credit: Lorie Shaull / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If the adults who witnessed September 11, 2001, still experience PTSD from the events of that day, what are we doing to the hundreds of thousands of children who have lived through a school shooting in person, and the millions who have been in a lockdown because they thought they were about to?

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On 9/11, I was at work in an office building within a mile of the Pentagon — close enough to hear and feel American Airlines Flight 77 hit. While you might think that, at that distance, the boom that follows when a commercial jet flies into a building and explodes would be pretty loud, or that there would be a noticeable shockwave, to me it sounded and felt more like the thud you hear when a large air conditioning unit kicks on.

Maybe that’s because my office had good sound insulation or because there was another building in the way or because there was only a direct line of sight to a tiny sliver of the Pentagon. In any case, the important thing for the purpose of this story is that I was never in any danger. Unlike the people in New York, where the collapsing buildings spread deadly dust and posed a mortal threat to individuals who were further from the World Trade Center than I was from the Pentagon, I was perfectly safe. And, to be honest, that’s also how I felt.

Even with reports of more hijacked planes in the sky, I did not fear for my life and didn’t worry about getting injured.

So, why am I telling you this if I barely noticed the attack and was in no danger at any point?

Because for years afterward, whenever I heard a plane approach, I stopped what I was doing, panicked a bit, and wondered whether this would be the day on which I would die in another terrorist attack.

In Washington, DC, this happened all the time because planes flew right by the Pentagon and my office to land at Ronald Reagan National Airport. That means that I experienced hundreds of these moments, and I have talked to many people who felt the same way.

Even today, when planes fly above Washington or New York City for some reason, there is usually some kind of warning because so many people remain traumatized and the sound of a jet approaching triggers that sense of dread and panic.

So, what’s the point?

It’s simple: If I, somebody who was never in actual danger myself on 9/11 and only experienced the attack tangentially, and the countless other residents of New York and Washington in the same situation, were so affected that hearing a plane fly above our heads would trigger a trauma response for years, what are we doing to the hundreds of thousands of children who have witnessed a school shooting in person, and the millions who have been in a lockdown because they thought they were about to?

I don’t think that we, as a society, have any idea what we are subjecting them to by not doing enough to fight this scourge.

And while 9/11 is always an occasion for solemn remembrance, let’s not forget that guns kill more Americans every single month than perished that day and that firearms are the leading cause of death for children in the US.

In fact, the number of kids who died from guns in 2021 is just about the same as the number of people who died in the World Trade Center.

Just imagine what we would do as a society if, once a year, terrorists killed all those children.

Granted, the two are not the same, and I also don’t know what the solution is. But I do know that 9/11 has completely changed air travel and resulted in a war that cost trillions of dollars and many more American lives.

In the meantime, all those gun deaths have resulted in lots of thoughts and prayers and not much else.



  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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