Written by Quinn Kanner
Less than four months ago, news of the Las Vegas shooting reached me where I was studying in Argentina. Now I’m in Ireland, and news of another mass shooting has reached me—this one in Parkland, Florida, a little closer to home.
I grew up in Florida, in Brevard County, a few counties north of where the shooting took place. My younger sister still goes to school in Florida at one of the state universities, and when I checked in with her to see if any of her friends were affected, she mentioned that a lot of people were being “dramatic” with what-ifs and might-have-beens. Students who almost went to that high school, or would have been there if they hadn’t skipped a grade. Their reactions bothered my sister because if you dwell on what could have happened, it could have been their college that was attacked or our old high school or any school.
No one should have to hear about a school shooting and think “that could have been my school.”
Florida is now home to two of the 10 deadliest shootings in the United States. When the Pulse nightclub shooting happened a year and a half ago, it was the deadliest mass shooting in recent history. Since that shooting only three new gun-related bills have passed despite many more being proposed. One amended the rules around showing your concealed gun and the violations for doing so. Another allowed people with conceal carry licenses to bring their guns on private school property if there is a religious institution on that property. The third expanded “stand your ground.” (When I was taught to shoot, I was told that if someone broke into my house and I had a gun to defend myself, I should shoot to kill because if I killed them, I would be protected under “stand your ground” and it’d be self-defense. If I only maimed them, they could sue me for their injuries.)
In the state of Florida, you can literally walk into a Walmart and buy a rifle, no questions asked. An 18-year-old can buy a semi-automatic assault rifle like the one used in both the Pulse and Parkland shootings with no waiting period. If you want a handgun, you have to be 21 and wait three days, but not for an assault rifle. The perpetrator of the Parkland shooting, who had been flagged by both police and the FBI, bought his gun legally.
Legislators aren’t doing things to protect people from gun violence, and instead that responsibility has fallen to other organizations to prepare for the possibility. After two attacks at movie theaters over the summer of 2015, the theater I worked at put in place a bag check policy. At our regular safety training to talk about fire procedures and medical emergencies, we also had to talk about making sure people didn’t bring hatchets or handguns into our theater.
About a year later when news of the Pulse shooting broke, the summer camp I worked at had to put in place measure for if an active shooter attacked our camp. A majority of the staff was under the age of 18, and they had to learn how to keep themselves and their campers safe if someone was shooting up the camp with an assault rifle. That’s not something a 15-year-old should have to worry about.
But apparently it is. School shootings have become so normalized that one was a plot point in a Sarah Dessen novel. If school shootings are common enough in our society that they’re the cause of trauma in a Young Adult romance novel, then we have a problem. They have moved from being an awful tragedy to just becoming a fact of life, something young people might just have to go through.
And as awful as each one is, nothing changes. When they first happen, people across the nation are upset and outraged. They call for legislation and the NRA fights back. They bicker over whether guns or people are the problem. And then they forget. They get distracted by whatever new outrageous thing Trump said, or a new Kardashian baby, and they forget. But the kids who experienced it never will.
It is our responsibility to prove that human lives are more important than guns or money or political agendas. We need to pressure our senators and representatives into creating gun control legislation or vote for someone who will. We have to, because most of those students who are old enough to be killed in a mass shooting are not old enough to vote.