We, the students, must be the voice of change America needs

Illustration by Alysse Stephens

The morning of Feb. 14, 17 families said goodbye to a loved one for the very last time. That afternoon, Nikolas Cruz allegedly entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl. with an AR-15 and opened fire.

After six minutes, 12 innocent lives had been taken. A few hours later, 17 were confirmed dead.

So now here we are, in the aftermath of another school shooting that did not take us by surprise. Here we are, with another decision to make, or not to make. Here we are, watching the tears, the heartache, the pain, the sorrow, and the trauma unfold right before our eyes. Here we are, waiting for the next round of gunfire that will take more lives and hoping it isn’t in our direction.

So how did we get here? How did a country that was founded on principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness end up having 31 percent of the world’s mass shootings but under five percent of the world’s population? The answer is not all clear and I cannot pretend to fully understand it.

I will not write this piece pretending to know all about politics or the intricacies of legislation.

But I will write this piece with what I do know: I do not want to die on my high school floor.

Growing up, the school names I heard on the news were not mentioned for excellence in academics or sport championships, but for shootings.

Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and now Marjory Stoneman Douglas are the top three mass killings in schools out of the top 25 since the Columbine massacre in 1999.

In the last 19 years, 25 schools have fallen under the category of suffering a mass shooting in which at least four people have died. Twenty-five schools have held vigils, attended funerals, and lost lives to senseless gun violence. 25 schools have been left to mourn and heal and watch as the government does nothing to prevent it from happening again.

After every single tragedy, we go through the exact same routine. We hear the names of the victims, we hear stories from their loved ones that were left behind to pick up the pieces, we hear tales of heroism and bravery from those willing to give their lives to spare those of others.

Finally, we see nothing; no change, no movement, no policy, and certainly no legislation because things got “too politicized” and the right to bear arms is prioritized once again over the lives of innocent children.

Now, with Parkland, we hear the protests. We see the survivors take back their voice and we see them fight the pain in their hearts as they demand policy and change from the same government that promised to protect them in the late 1700s.

The issue of children dying in schools is being replaced with a partisan battle between Republicans and Democrats and the National Rifle Association when the focus should be on making sure that the last thing a student sees isn’t their school floor.

I understand that guns aren’t all bad, and I understand it is a constitutional right to be able to own a shotgun or rifle when you reach age 18, and a handgun at 21, but no one needs a semi -automatic. Almost every mass shooting in the last 19 years has been committed with a semi-automatic gun. These are weapons of war. These are guns that were designed with the sole purpose of killing a large number of people in an extremely short amount of time.

Keep your hunting rifles and keep your handhelds that are meant for self-defense, but no civilian has a reason why they would need to have a weapon of mass destruction, a weapon that is used by trained military personnel, in their own home.

Only days after the incident, the survivors of the Douglas shooting stood in the very room where the Florida House voted no on hearing a debate about a bill on the ban of semi-automatics. The very same students who had lost so much, lost once again against the same weapon that threatened them days before.

America expected there to be change after Virginia Tech, where 33 lives were taken by a semi automatic. After the Sandy Hook shooting, I expected for something, anything, after 20 innocent children, all under the age of seven, were massacred by a mentally ill man who bought a semi-automatic.

I expected change after the Orlando nightclub shooting, where 49 people were killed in cold blood with a semiautomatic. I did not know what to expect after the Las Vegas shootings where 58 lives ended in gunshot wounds from a semi-automatic. Nothing had changed before, why would anything change now?

Now, after 17 were lost at the hands of a 19-year-old who legally purchased a semi-automatic, I see a spark of change.

There are students our age, fighting for the right to live. These students are doing something about the problem that has existed for far too long. These students are uniting for one cause. A cause that shouldn’t even be disputed – their safety.

As a 17-year-old, I should be worrying about the typical thing such as tests, jobs, college, and balancing extracurriculars with hobbies and homework. I should not have to worry about being shot while walking to my next class. I should not have to worry if every morning will be the last morning I will see my family and friends. I should not have to worry about my 12-year-old sister and if it will be me, or her, or maybe both, who do not return home one day.

I do not want to die on my high school floor.

At this point in our nation’s history, we have two choices. We can either demand change and demand the full protections we are given in our Constitution, or we can sit back, wait for the next shooting, and hope it is not us.

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©2018 Eagles' Eyrie - the school newspaper for Mills E. Godwin High School in Henrico, VA

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