My mom was the one who told me about the Florida shooting. She told me to look it up on the internet. Seventeen people were killed at a high school in Parkland, Florida by a teenage gunman on Valentine’s Day.
I remember when the only horrific shooting I knew about was in Columbine. But that happened when I was two years old. Growing up, people rarely talked about it, so I didn’t think about it much.
All I knew was that Columbine was a terrible tragedy that had changed the way the United States looked at school security and mental health. I didn’t even know Columbine High School was in Colorado until I went there with my high school tennis team to play against Columbine on their home courts. It was also 15 minutes away from my house.
Still, my classmates and I rarely talked about mass shootings. After all, what were the chances of another mass shooting in Colorado? What did we know about guns and mental health? What could we do?
And then the Aurora theater shooting happened in 2012. The gunman shot 82 people and killed 12. Suddenly, mass shootings didn’t seem so far away, and everyone at school was talking about gun control and public safety.
A friend of my mom’s friend was the mother of one of the victims. One of my childhood friends called me, shaking, to tell me that he had been planning on going to see the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” at that theater but had changed his mind at the last second. Sandy Hook happened only months later.
All murder is horrific and unjust, but hearing about a gunman shooting six- and seven-year-old children made some of my classmates cry. One of my classmates knew the victim of the Arapahoe High School shooting the next year, and I watched from a distance how gaunt and heartbroken she looked, how quiet she was.
Naively, I thought the worst mass shooting in America for decades to come would be the Aurora theater shooting. But then Sandy Hook happened. And then the Pulse club shooting, the Sutherland Springs shooting and the Las Vegas shooting.
On the news, it almost feels like every new mass shooting breaks some kind of record for deadliness and evil. At this point, it certainly feels like the United States is trying to get the record for the country with the most mass shootings in history.
It’s tempting to think that the shootings are far away from us when our loved ones aren’t the ones getting hurt. It’s also tempting to think that only politicians can bring change, and because there has been no change, then there is nothing we can do.
But if we students don’t start getting involved in politics and holding our representatives accountable, if we don’t start looking at America’s gun culture and the state of American mental health, if we don’t realize that something is fundamentally wrong with our country, more innocent people are going to die.
And those victims could be people who die just 15 minutes away from our houses. Those victims could be us, our friends or our future children.
Emma Gonzalez, one of the Florida shooting survivors, calls for action to prevent school shootings from ever happening again. She says what I think many of us are feeling. And if we aren’t feeling it, then maybe we should be.
The fact that students have to fight for their right to live when adults, especially the President of the United States, should already be ensuring that students are safe is wrong.
Soon, we’ll be the adults. And if we don’t change, then one day, we’ll be the ones held accountable.