Three days ago, I woke up at 6:37 a.m. to get to school on time; I had to be out of the house by 6:45. In a frenzied scramble, I threw my school bag together and dismissed my mother’s usual “drive safe, I love you” with only a quick wave, assuming that she knew I loved her too, assuming I could always tell her I love her later when I get home.
Twenty miles away, 17 people left their homes under the assumption they’d also have a “later,” only to have a 19-year-old with an AR-15 rob them of their futures.
A few hours later, I sat in the passenger seat of a friend’s car, laughing carelessly as he slid the key in the ignition. We were on our way to Parkland to drop off some paperwork. Both our phones went off simultaneously, and I glanced at the screen. Alerts and notifications popped up one after the other, all warnings and news updates and texts about a school massacre, a shooter at large, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was under lockdown, police and SWAT presence in Parkland.
Had the shooting happened 20 minutes later, we would have been in its midst.
We live in an age marked by the prevalence of social media. As I anxiously watched the live news broadcast on TV, I scrolled through my Snapchat. Amid innocuous posts commemorating Valentine’s Day were videos of friends who attended Stoneman Douglas, friends cowering under desks and behind podiums, biting back screams and filling the screen with pixelated footage of blood, bullet holes and the still bodies of their classmates.
Snapchat reflects the lives of people I know, the people I hang out with on weekends, the people representative of my generation. My generation’s unfortunate reality is full of the blood of their peers, massacred by a single piece of metal machinery. My generation’s reality is my best friend abruptly standing up and walking out in the middle of class, tears escaping her clenched eyes and blurring the screen of her phone. Through her tears, I make out the words “she didn’t make it,” in reference to her piano partner and close friend, and I need no further explanation.
Two days ago, 17 people died. A 19-year-old shot and killed them with a legally obtained AR-15, a type of semi-automatic rifle. Those 17 victims, 14 of which were high school students, will join the ranks of the 438 victims of school shootings in the past six years since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Of those 438 victims, 138 died.
Gun culture has served as an integral thread to the fabric American society since the Founding Fathers huddled in Philadelphia and framed the Constitution with British monarchical abuse of power still fresh in their minds. In the United States, the RAND Corporation has estimated that more than 22 million children live in homes with firearms. As an analysis of a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center explained, American gun owners have somehow intrinsically linked their right to bear arms to the freedom promised to American citizens. As a result, this demographic of people, embodied by the National Rifle Association (NRA), perceives any attempt to pass stricter regulations on owning or obtaining a firearm as an attack on their liberty.
To those demanding their right to bear arms, many of us calling for reform respect that. We may not agree, but we respect it. All we ask in return is the sanctity of our own right to attend school and receive an education to the best of our schools’ abilities free of the fear of being shot down at our desks. We, the American youth, deserve to set foot in a school confident that the powers that be (read: the government) have guaranteed our safety.
To those in power, to those with ability to make positive change: we are dying. The fact that such horrific massacres have such recent precedents speaks for itself. Too many politicians have turned a blind eye to institutionalized gun violence against the American youth to avoid stemming the flow of NRA dollars fueling their campaigns.
To our legislators: we need gun control, and we need it now. Yes, this is about mental illness, and yes, this is about a school shooter. However, guns always have been and always will be the common denominator. Nikolas Cruz, a troubled youth with a history littered with violence, obtained a semi-automatic weapon legally. As schools can only secure themselves so much, we need more thorough background checks, longer waiting periods and detailed screenings.
Change didn’t happen after Columbine. It didn’t happen after Virginia Tech. It didn’t happen after Sandy Hook. The list continues for a pathetically long time. Some say it won’t happen now, after Stoneman Douglas. But cowering behind past lack of action does not justify idleness in the present circumstances. We owe it, if not to ourselves or students across the country then for the 17 lives lost, to try.
What you can do:
- Attend the protest for reformed firearm legislation at school Monday, Feb. 19 from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. The flyer can be found here.
- Call your representatives in Congress. Dial (202)-224-3041 to contact senator Marco Rubio’s office or (202) 224-5274 to contact senator Bill Nelson’s office. Advocate for the change you wish to see.
- Contribute to the victims’ relief fund. The Broward Education Foundation, a nonprofit that raises money for Broward County Public Schools, has organized the Stoneman Douglas Victims’ fund at this official GoFundMe page.
- Donate blood. Hospitals housing recovering victims need to replenish their supply. Potential donors, especially universal donors with the O negative blood type, can find the nearest OneBlood Big Red Bus or donation center at https://www.oneblood.org/donate-now/.
Thoughts and prayers are for caskets. Comprehensive policy change and legislative reform will keep America’s youth out of them.