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Chaos and Panic at the Nats Game: the Fear that Haunts Us All

At first, some of the fans thought it was thunder.

When a mass shooting happens, survivors often describe an initial confusion over the sounds they’re hearing—are they fireworks? A car backfiring? Or is it that final option, the one that all of us dread? 

Alyssa and Sam were at the Washington Nationals game on Saturday night when panic erupted after three people were shot just outside the stadium. In those first moments after the gunshots, everything was chaos and noise. 

Fans started streaming towards the exits to take cover. Instructions were given over the announcement system, Alyssa told me, but it was so loud inside the stadium that she couldn’t make out what was being said. 

“When you’re in the midst of it,” Sam said, “your mind immediately goes to the worst-case scenario.” In the box where he and his wife were sitting, fans dove onto the ground, pulling metal chairs and tables on top of themselves. Sam and Alyssa did the same, along with the couple in their 70s with whom they were attending the game. Throughout the stadium, kids were crying.

Alyssa and Sam’s two daughters grew up with active shooter drills; a few decades earlier, Sam grew up with duck-and-cover drills aimed at preparing for a nuclear attack. “I never would have thought I’d be ducking and covering, at my age, at a baseball game,” Sam said. 

Some fans jumped into the dugout to try to hide. Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. and other teammates opened the gate to their dugout to help usher fans to safety. 

Unable to hear the stadium announcer, Sam and Alyssa texted their daughter, who was able to determine that the shooting had happened outside the stadium. A message appeared on the Jumbotron instructing fans to stay inside. 

“When you’re in the midst of it, your mind immediately goes to the worstcase scenario.”

Eventually, fans were instructed to leave the stadium through certain exits. It’s a night that Alyssa and Sam, along with the thousands of other fans, will tragically never forget.  

Three people were injured in Saturday night’s shooting, including a fan. The night before, a six-year-old girl was murdered and four adults were injured in a drive-by shooting in Southeast Washington DC. The city is struggling with its highest homicide levels in 16 years, as gun violence continues to rise in cities across the country.


Mass Shootings

No other industrialized nation experiences mass shootings with this frequency. This is not normal. 

While mass shootings—and even the fear of  mass shootings—capture much of the media and public’s attention, nearly two-thirds of gun violence is firearm suicide. The vast majority of gun homicides, like the one that took the life of six-year-old Nyiah, disproportionately impact communities of color and often don’t make the national news. 

The fear of mass shootings that pervades our society and sends tens of thousands of fans scrambling at a baseball game is uniquely American. Our country has more guns than people, weak federal gun laws, and a gun lobby that will stop at nothing to increase the profits of gun manufacturers. From movie theaters to yoga studios to grocery stores to concerts to houses of worship, no public place feels safe.

There are steps we can take immediately to reduce the threat of gun violence. The Senate can pass universal background checks legislation that closes dangerous loopholes that allow individuals prohibited from purchasing guns from obtaining them online, through private sales, and at gun shows. Congress can regulate ghost guns, incentivize states to pass extreme risk protection order laws, and fund lifesaving community violence intervention programs.

The Senate can also confirm David Chipman as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, an agency tasked with investigating and preventing violent crime that’s long suffered from a lack of permanent leadership and a lack of adequate funding. If confirmed as director, David Chipman will work with state and local law enforcement to tackle this recent spike in gun crimes. President Biden also recently announced a Department of Justice task force that will operate in five cities, including DC, to combat violent crime.

One of the greatest obligations and opportunities we have as Americans is to make our voices heard by our elected officials. If you’re fed up with gun violence and fear of gun violence call your senators and ask them to support universal background checks. Send an email asking them to confirm David Chipman. Leave a comment in support of regulating ghost guns

It’s time for every American who cares about this issue to get off the sidelines and get involved.


Gun violence costs our nation 40,000 lives each year. We can’t sit back as politicians fail to act tragedy after tragedy. Giffords brings the fight to save lives to communities, courthouses, and ballot boxes across the country—will you stand with us?