Every time a news alert notification pops up on my phone, I get a bit of a sinking feeling. Sadly, my first thoughts are often the same. Is it news of another unspeakable tragedy that has taken place in one of our communities? Is it about another mass shooting? On February 14th, 2018, another one of those news alerts came. It was about an active shooter situation at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As I do every time I get one of these alerts, I turned on the news. In the back of my mind, I hoped this one was different. Maybe they had the situation contained. Maybe there were no causalities. But, like nearly every time, I was wrong. As things progressed, I saw the same heartbreaking images flash across my television screen: students running terrified from their school, parents emotionally reuniting with their traumatized children, and first responders working tirelessly to secure the safety of the scene and transport the injured. Many people may question why I continually allow myself to be exposed to this type of tragedy. Why do I even turn on the news? My answer is pretty simple. I feel it is important to be a witness to these people’s experiences. I feel like it is my duty as a human being to hold space for them and their pain. They deserve to have their stories known. They deserve to have people to fight for them, to fight with them. The issue of gun control, especially as it relates to school shootings, is something I have felt strongly about since I was in high school. And that is why I open myself up to this. That is why I try to stay informed. That is why I let it all in.
But sometimes, actively choosing to be a witness can expose a person to things that can’t be unseen. While perusing the “Parkland” hashtag on Twitter, I came across an incredibly graphic video taken by a MSD student inside the school in the aftermath of the shooting. There was no message cautioning potential viewers. I can honestly say it is one of the most horrific, gut-wrenching things I’ve seen in my entire life. It was shocking and heartbreaking in a way I have never experienced. It took my breath away in the worst way. But it showed the truth…the incredibly harsh reality of what people faced that day and so many times before. And I firmly believe, with every fiber of my being, that every single person in a position of legislative, executive, or judicial power and anyone who opposes common sense gun control should be forced to watch it. They need to see law enforcement officers carrying an injured student out of a classroom to safety. They need to see young people trying to avoid the lifeless bodies of their fellow students as they ran down the hall and out of the building. They need to see the gruesome and horrific images of innocent victims who lost their lives being left alone in giant pools of blood. They need to hear the depth of pain and fear in their anguished cries of the young people fleeing. They need to see what their inaction and stance on this issue has done to real people. They need to understand the reality. They need to feel it deep in their bones. They need to experience a minute fraction of the trauma, horror, terror, and devastation that those affected experienced and are continuing to experience. That is the very least they could do. So maybe they will think twice before voting against gun control measures that could potentially save lives. So maybe the next time they are offered money by the gun lobby they have those images and sounds playing in their heads. So maybe they are empowered to DO SOMETHING. They need to realize that their thoughts and prayers are not nearly enough. They are never enough. They never have been.
This latest devastating event is just another demonstration that gun violence is at epidemic proportions in our country. On an average day, 96 Americans are killed with guns, seven of them being children and teens. On average, there are nearly 13,000 gun homicides committed yearly in the U.S. (Everytown for Gun Safety, 2018a). Since 2013 alone, there have been 290 school shootings (Everytown for Gun Safety, 2018b). Let me repeat that – 290. That is 290 times an individual has been able to get a gun on school property. The frightening truth remains, the safety of children in the U.S. is not insured every morning they leave for school. How unconscionable is that? Children aren’t even safe in school…an environment of learning and growth where they should be nurtured and protected. Some people suggest that arming teachers may be the answer. Their rationale is that “good guys” with guns can take out the “bad guys” with guns. But more guns is not the answer. It hasn’t been yet. The United States ranks first in the world when it comes to gun ownership. There are literally more guns than there are people, with 101 guns per 100 residents (Congressional Research Service, 2012).
Honestly, I could go on and on about this issue. Like so many others, I am fueled by hot tears of anger and heartbreak. Continually seeing the needless suffering of my fellow human beings….I just can’t let it go. I can’t accept that this is somehow the “new normal.” Nothing about this is normal. People in positions of power need to step up. NOW. They need to set aside their self-interest and greed or relinquish their positions. They need to listen to the will of the people. Compromises must be made and hard work needs to be done. Or this will keep happening. More innocent lives will be cut short…lives full of potential and meaning. More families will be torn apart. More people will be traumatized, the course of their lives changed forever. And all of that is needless and just plain wrong. The bottom line is, the right to own a potential weapon of mass murder should never supersede the right to life. And no amount of arguing about self-protection will convince me otherwise. Private citizens do not need assault weapons. If you were going to overthrow a tyrannical government you would’ve done it by now!!! Our forefathers would roll over in their graves if they knew how people have perverted the words of the Constitution to suit their own selfish wants and needs. In the words of the late Heather Heyer, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” Sigh. I’m done. For now.
P.S. I know everyone can’t handle being exposed to tragedy on such a frequent basis. I encourage you to do what’s best for you and your mental health. Protect your heart and take care. You are not alone in your feelings of anger, sadness, and powerlessness.
Congressional Research Service. (2012). Gun control legislation. Retrieved from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf
Everytown for Gun Safety. (2018a). Gun violence by the numbers. Retrieved from https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/
Everytown for Gun Safety. (2018b). School shootings in America since 2013. Retrieved from https://everytownresearch.org/school-shootings/