I first learned about school shootings in the sixth grade. My entire middle school was gathered into the gym for a presentation from a guest speaker. The speaker, a man with passion in his eyes and determination in his voice, told us that he was a representative from Rachel’s Challenge, a non-profit working to prevent violence in the United States. He told us that his sister, Rachel Scott, was the first victim to be murdered in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
Rachel had left behind dozens of journals and diary entries talking about her passion for starting a “chain reaction” of positive change.
Interested in learning more about the program, I went home and quickly googled Rachel’s Challenge. I went through dozens of articles talking about the life and legacy of Rachel Scott, but I also found myself reading about the other twelve victims who were killed in the shooting. A sense of fear and panic began to take over me: What if this were to happen at my school?
On February 14th, I learned that Stoneman Douglas High School was in the midst of a school shooting (according to Everytown for Gun Safety, this is the 18th school shooting of only this year). The same fear and sickness took over me as when I had heard about Columbine, Sandy Hook, and more. As a seventeen-year-old, watching videos of other seventeen-year olds-cowering under desks as gunshots exploded in the nearby hallway shook me to my core.
I spent Valentine’s Day talking to my boyfriend’s mom about the importance of enacting gun control laws. His younger sister (only ten years old) had heard about the Douglas shooting and came home concerned and panicked about her safety at school. Ten-year-olds shouldn’t have to worry about going to school and not making it back home.
I’m fearful for my friends as they enter school buildings, but I’m more afraid of the lack of policy change occuring as a result of school shootings. After the 9/11 terrorism attacks, airport security skyrocketed in intensity. After eighteen school shootings this year, AR-15 rifles are still easily available to purchase. In fact, Nikolas Cruz, the Stoneman Douglas High School shooter who was kicked out of school for violent tendencies and had been previously reported to law enforcement for posting suspicious and violent YouTube comments, easily passed his background check and acquired the rifle.
Gun control is obviously an incredibly debatable topic, but the fact of the matter is: guns have drastically changed since the days of our founding fathers. When the Second Amendment was written, guns fired one or two rounds per minute. The rifle used in the Douglas massacre fires 45 rounds per minute. Who, in all of America, needs a gun that fires 45 rounds per minute to hunt an animal or defend themselves from an intruder?
The answer is no one. Simply banning the sale of military-grade rifles could save hundreds of people. Even requiring more intense background and mental health screenings could’ve stopped Nikolas Cruz from purchasing the weapon that took children’s lives.
Blame the shooter for his cowardice and disgusting actions, but blame America for not preventing dozens of tragedies. I’m confident that my generation of teenagers—perhaps even some who were within the walls of Stoneman Douglas yesterday—will be the ones to enact the policy change that we so desperately need.
For now, I encourage all reading this to make art, write articles, direct films—anything that helps you express your thoughts and feelings about the subject. I truly believe that art is essential in shaping the future of our country. Call your representatives. Vote in your local elections. Share your voice—because the victims of the shooting, teenagers across America, my sixth-grade self, and my boyfriend’s ten year-old sister desperately need to hear it.