It was a Wednesday night in Malibu, Calif., and a group of students at Pepperdine University was looking for something to do.
Believe it or not, the entertainment options in Malibu often grow stale for college students. There are only so many times you can stare at the same beach. There are only so many mountain trails to hike and celebrities to spot and say “hi” to. Most of the college students—middle class and attending the university through scholarships and student loans—are outpriced from patronizing the fine restaurants and boutique shops, which dot Pacific Coast Highway for dozens of miles.
It is a weekly, occasionally bi-weekly, occurrence for groups of Pepperdine students to pile into compact sedans and drive 20 miles north to the suburban city of Thousand Oaks to catch a movie or grab a bite to eat. There is a shopping mall, plenty of discount retailers and lots of chain and fast food restaurants to choose from.
On this Wednesday night early in April, as stress over exams and assignments mounted late in the spring semester, my sister and a group of her friends from Texas were craving some southern hospitality. Folks in California simply are not as nice as the people in Oklahoma, or Southeast Texas. They don’t hold open doors, they don’t say “thank you” and “please” and they certainly don’t appreciate square dancing and cowboy boots.
With a wide-open dance floor and blaring country music, Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks offered an oasis from the cutthroat, make-it-or-break-it world of Southern California. While normally opening only to those over the age of 21, they make an exception every Wednesday night to host college night, allowing anyone over the age of 18 to enter.
Craving some good old-fashioned, sober fun, my sister and six of her friends ventured out to Borderline around 8 p.m. on this Wednesday evening. Donning cowboy hats and flannel shirts, they walked inside the dance hall after showing their IDs and receiving a stamp indicating they were under 21.
While the group failed miserably at line dancing, the night was filled with laughter and joy. They walked away feeling less stressed about classes and more connected as friends.
This morning, waking up around 6:30 a.m. to the sound of my roommate’s alarm, I did the first thing I do every morning and checked Twitter. The first tweet I read was from the Associated Press. A mass shooting had occurred at a bar in California. Thirteen people were killed.
It wasn’t until I clicked and read the linked article that I realized the shooting hit incredibly close to home.
I took a screenshot of the story and texted it to my sister, who still attends Pepperdine but is currently studying abroad in China.
“Was this the place you and your friends went to line dance freshman year?” I texted.
“Yeah isn’t that crazy,” she said.
She went on to tell me multiple Pepperdine students were at Borderline when the shooting occurred, and the entire campus was on edge. We lamented about how awful the tragedy was and how it is terrible mass shootings of this magnitude have become nearly a weekly occurrence. Finally, from tens of thousands of miles away, I called her and told her I love her.
It is no secret mental health is a serious problem in this country. It is also no secret ample, increasing access to automatic firearms is an issue which must be resolved. But I am not here to argue a political standpoint one way or the other. I am here to urge this student body not to grow numb to these mass tragedies and continue on in their day like nothing has happened.
Before clicking the article, I was very close to turning over and going back to sleep. I initially felt sad, but not sad enough to stop what I was doing. I am ashamed of myself. This could have been my sister. For hundreds, perhaps thousands, it was their sibling, spouse, parent or friend who was killed in this tragedy.
For the first time in years, I cried this morning. I thought about the sight of the innocent people at this bar being viciously murdered. I thought about their parents, girlfriends, wives and spouses receiving the horrible news that they would never speak, see or hold their loved ones ever again. I thought about parents having to plan the funeral of their child.
If you are a pro-gun person, speak up. If you are an anti-gun person, speak up. If you offer a solution which compromises between the two sides, speak even louder. This country needs answers more than it ever has before. Just remember to be respectful, courteous and empathetic to everyone you encounter. If you say something on social media you would never say in person, you are doing things wrong.
If the American people remain apathetic—distracted by video games, sports, work obligations, homework and movies—nothing will change, and more people will die. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that guilt on my conscience.