A few months ago, I pressed my finger to the twitter app on my phone, anticipating some much needed laughter in the midst of college applications and the stress of senior fall. As I scrolled through countless memes, celebrity tweets, and funny videos, I eventually came across a tweet that read, “I mean, I love pizza, but if pizza violently killed 30,000 people a year, I’d be like ‘okay, maybe none of us should have pizza.’” I stopped for a second, considering this analogy briefly before absentmindedly favoriting the tweet and moving on. I’m a liberal person. I should agree with the anti-gun movement, right?
Before February 14th, 2018, I was desensitized. It is safe to say that my education on gun laws began and ended with the same tweet about pizza. I arrived to school every morning, and spent my days thinking about schoolwork, friends, family, college–anything except political issues. Although I was aware of the violence in our country, I never allowed myself to feel it. I watched my classmate deliver a speech about his experience with Sandy Hook, and I felt nothing. I watched a teacher I am close to struggling with a violent experience in her neighborhood, and I still couldn’t grasp the gravity of our situation. I heard about shootings in Kentucky, Michigan, Texas, Philadelphia, and Louisiana, and I still didn’t fully understand that America is broken.
“Did you see the videos? That could’ve been us.” Just minutes after I had used Snapchat to send a meaningless selfie, my friend urged me to visit online media sources and watch the Snapchat videos taken by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. I quickly opened the browser of my computer, intrigued by the concern in my friend’s voice. I knew there had been a shooting, but how bad was it? The few details I already knew about the tragedy would never be enough to prepare me for what I was about to see.
I finally understood.
For the next couple of hours, the search history on my computer was full. I was overwrought with the feeling that I had missed so much of what was right in front of me. I wanted to finally feel the broken heart of our country.
That could’ve been us. The words of my friend have carefully etched themselves into my mind. As I travel through the stairwell to my AP Biology class, my mind wanders far. What if a shooter entered right now? Where would we run? How would I protect myself? How would I protect others? Unfortunately, these are the questions that we must ask ourselves every day. I think of my school community as a sacred place full of trustworthy teachers, supportive parents, and talented peers. I can’t even begin to describe my love for the close community that we share. My biggest fear is that my community could someday face a horrifying danger that we could never predict. If I am scared, I can only imagine the fear that the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School must feel. Their bravery is admirable, but it is also wrongfully expected of them. Their right to education, a right that is promised to them by the government and values of society, has been taken away. The community of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will be damaged forever.
That could’ve been us. The words of my friend have carefully etched themselves into my mind. As I travel through the stairwell to my AP Biology class, my mind wanders far. What if a shooter entered right now? Where would we run? How would I protect myself? How would I protect others?
It is easy to interpret what happened on February 14th, 2018 in many different ways; however, it is indisputable that the AR-15 that the shooter carried played a pivotal role in the events that transpired. It would be easy to say that the school wasn’t prepared, except for the fact that they had just undergone training in multiple active shooter drills. It would be easy to say that police forces didn’t respond quickly enough, except for the fact that the duration of the shooting only lasted 7 minutes (In the Columbine Massacre of 1999, 12 students and one teacher were killed over the course of 1 hour, and the school was not secured for another 4 hours. In the Stoneman Douglas shooting, 17 people were killed in 7 minutes). It would be easy to say that the FBI is at fault, or the parents, peers, educators, or neighbors for not being concerned with the perpetrator’s preliminary actions. Except how can you clearly discern those who are mentally ill from those who are dangerous to society when the two issues are often intertwined? Ultimately, it is easiest to say that if the attacker had never acquired a semi-automatic rifle, the 17 students and teachers would still be alive today.
I once had someone tell me that our society is roughly divided into a distribution of 20%-60%-20%. Those who occupy the lower 20% are those who are unable to be changed in the way they discriminate and hate. Those who occupy the middle 60% are those who are indifferent. Finally, those who occupy the upper 20% have the responsibility to spread acceptance and love. In essence, the issue of gun violence is ultimately a question of love or hate. Does the ability to wield unruly power outweigh the ability to love human life? Can we sacrifice our own individual rights in order to save the greater good?
Since February 14th, 2018, I am holding myself accountable. I can no longer be a part of the 60% because I am an American citizen who has the responsibility to feel, think, and act. We must all strive to escape the 60% to which we know we have fallen victim.