I remember the first time my school did a school shooting emergency drill. We did not know it was a drill. Not all of us realized what a "lockdown" was. Two students argued in hushed whispers, one well-aware it was for shootings, another insisting a convict could have escaped in a nearby prison.
We thought about pulling out our phones and texting our parents, except the teacher seemed perturbed by its novelty but not particularly frightened. After, she simply said, "I don't want you to be afraid. I want you to take it seriously. It could save all of our lives -- just being quiet. Not goofing off when the lights go out and the intercom says, 'lockdown,' in one click." I remember that it happened often, especially around times of school shootings on the news -- which is why I acutely remember the shootings were often.
I first got into article writing on the encouragement of a high school English teacher. The first story I ever wrote was about overcoming childhood illness and a near-death experience. It was published in TeenInk and circulated around the country. I received many letters and read plenty of to-the-editor responses. It occurred to me, just 14 or 15 at the time, that I might have a platform.
It was the thought that was sitting with me at the time of the Sandy Hook shooting. As we neared the anniversary of one year and it was so palpable that our state of Connecticut, my home, hadn't healed. There were still teddy bear memorials in the streets. It still struck a raw nerve when mentioned almost weekly on the news or in town, and grated in the back of my mind every time I brought my little brother to elementary school. Every morning. It became clearer to me than ever that I had to say something, and I wrote an article. It was published again, circulated to classrooms around the country again, and received letters and read responses to it.
I didn't think my writing would change the world, and it didn't. But I was young, it was 2013, and I thought maybe, just maybe, we were heading into an age of gun reform. I remember feeling hopeful, and sad, when President Obama went on TV, or was in a web clip, encouraging states to change their laws and warning lawmakers that it wouldn't stop until they took action. I remember believing that once the Republican congress was balanced out, and the stalemates of R-gridlock shifted, any non-conservative majority congress would pass the last laws we needed to be safe.
I remember having nightmares about shootings at my school. They were just as normal as having nightmares about being naked in the middle of class, or forgetting to go to class and missing the first day of school.
I remember pulling all-nighters with my friends at sleepovers, and people asking me in "Truth or Dare" if I would jump in front of a bullet for them, or charge a shooter in a lunchroom. I remember a kid having a gun confiscated, and not overthinking it.
I remember the first time the school on-boarded a public safety officer, and each time knives were found in a locker, the administration threatening to install metal detectors.
I remember fighting with my mom that I didn't want to go to school. Often because I was bullied relentlessly - all my friends and I were - but also because "those kids" (the slackers that smoked cigarettes in the skate park, chased children off the nearby playground, got in fist-fights, broke water fountains, and bragged about their access to weed) constantly joked about shooting up the school, or tried to prove how cool or unfazed they were by making horrible, dark jokes about the news when another mass killing went viral. They drew Nazi symbols on mirrors, some had confederate flags in the backs of their trucks, and wore "don't tread on me" T-shirts or pinned the flags in their lockers.
There was a constant discussion in the student body of whether they were just jerks and actually harmless, or if they did the destructive and violent things they said they did to look "cool".
It was a public small-city high school, increasingly underfunded and an infamously toxic environment. It was full of genuine fear.
I don't recount this to say that shootings have become a part of American life, or that teens are afraid in school, and parents are afraid sending them to school. We know that.
I recount it to say that this was five years ago. Change felt immediately necessary, demanding, and there was hope that it was on the horizon. There was hope that things would change soon, because we couldn't adjust to it. It couldn't become normal. It was too horrifying to be normal. We were being assigned summer reading books like "The Hour I First Believed" by Wally Lamb. It couldn't become part of our education. Drills couldn't outlast our time there. They were supposed to be temporary, not normal.
"Don't normalize it!" the tweets were crying then, and now.
"It won't happen, gun control is any day now, America won't ignore Sandy Hook," I said.
I was wrong. It has.
Florida has marked yet another shooting. It hasn't stopped. Somehow, change feels harder and more inaccessible now than then. We are angrier. We are afraid as we are desensitized. Nothing changed. Nothing changes.
Kids are being raised thinking their schools are not safe. I was raised thinking my school is not safe. I came of age in a town next to a town where children had been slaughtered, and normalcy was a strange performance that broken people were clinging to, stumbling through their own lives with collective dissonance and off-hinged community rhythms. People had lost everything. Friends of friends were attending funerals for baby cousins. It was all wrong.
It is still all wrong.
Parents are without their children tonight. 17. Children are without their friends tonight.
And it feels horribly, horribly normal.
We are done waiting. I am done waiting.
1. Thoughts and Prayers
How can anyone shrug and deflect and "thoughts and prayers" your way out of accountability for children murdered in mass shootings, moving on unfazed by the 30,0000 annual American causalities of gun violence?
How can you defend the right of a white Christian male terrorist to walk into a school and murder 20 children in a matter of minutes, year after year after year, for the theoretical threat that you might be inconvenienced in buying your next "toy"?
How can you look at weapons capable of mass murder as a toy?
How can you turn away from the fatal consequences of their politics, and cry for more and more access for as many consumers as possible to buy and use and own weapons, even though it always means more death?
It's insane. It's soulless. Delusional, at best.
2. Excuses Mean Nothing
Stop pretending something that has happened 8 times in the past 7 weeks, and relentlessly for the past 19 years, is "an isolated and rare incident".
Stop saying that shooting the shooter dead after there are already bodies on the floor is "enough" justice. Stop saying the last bullet of the day means it's over. It's not. It's not over for America. It's not enough. Making sure this never happens again is the only justice.
3. It's preventable.
We're just not facing tragedy. We're facing chronic mass killings. We're facing chronic mass killings that are frequent, senseless, unpredictable, and target crowds and the most vulnerable, seemingly-safe locations. We're facing mass killings that are preventable, but enabled by lawmakers who are too afraid to lose funding from the NRA lobbies to do anything.
Don't let anyone forget that lawmakers have the power to change this. Gun reform has been on the table since Columbine in 1999. It's been 19 years of a refusal to change, even as other first world nations have gone ahead and meaningfully changed the pattern of gun violence and provided substantive evidence at its effectiveness.
19 years of complicit and criminal inaction. How many were funded directly by the NRA and gun interests groups? Research your fav conservative politician's donors yourself. You just might find the hand moving their puppet mouth if you trace it to the arm stuffing bills in their suit pocket.
4. The opposition is archaic.
Not only is there every reason to restrict, limit, and even ban these weapons, there is no valid reason to make them a household staple in the face of the consequences of relaxed laws.
This is my problem with conservative fallacies. No one knows what you stand for if it isn't blatant narcissism at the living threat of everyone else in the country.
You say it's "God and America". Does God not love all His children, and they thy neighboor? Did Jesus not turn the other cheek? Does America not see 30,000 of her people killed by unnecessary gun violence a year? How can you see the impact of gun violence in America society, and confidently call it the mark of a free country?
When in God's commandments did He say "you have the right to bear arms"?
It's not a Christian thing, it's a Second Amendment thing. That's a wartime constitution from an era of English oppression and very different technological contexts, and still - uncivilized. It's back when slavery was legal, women couldn't vote, and the war was happening on US soil.
America should not be a warzone. America does not need a civilian military. We're not mid-Revolution against the British empire. We're not in the wake of the terror of imperialist powers, with citizen-run government, drafting a Bill of Rights that defends the revolt against former tyranny. It's not the 1770's and 80's. It's not 1791, when the Bill of Rights was written.
5. Gun Hobbying and Lobbying and Other Hypocrisy
You're so quick to say "it's not the guns", it's the people. Then suddenly it's an unarmed black kid, and you say it's it's not the cop that's responsible, and it's not the gun that's responsible, but the victim somehow.
It's all excuses. It's all unethical. It's all party-line bull.
The same people who say "I shouldn't be affected by gun regulations because I would never personally shoot someone," call pro-choice legislation evil for saying, "Women shouldn't be affected by abortion regulations just because I would never personally abort a pregnancy."
If you insist no women should have an abortion, or it should be extremely limited and regulated, because you think it's killing kids, then you should insist no unfit civilians should have guns, because mass shootings ARE killing children.
There's no more time left for ideological sparring. There's no time left for the hypocritical garbage. It has to stop. If you care about human life, if you care about American children, then you care. Or you don't. Your actions decide - and lawmakers, your legacy is inaction.
Right now, the conservative agenda is horrifying. It's damning.
How can you call those "toys" a right while invalidating and infringing on countless other human rights that are immediate and profound? How can you ship Americans who have been here since they were children back to countries where they don't speak the language, experience culture shock and destitution, and often face fatal violence - over a piece of paper you call birthright? Then say you care about human rights.
Is it the same callousness that puts your NRA hobby BIRGing above the victims? Have you shrugged off Sandy Hook yet? Because I haven't. I've met those parents. I've been to that community. They haven't.
How can you claim right to life --- or even the right to migration and asylum --- is a human right, but your right to gun ownership is?
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
― Emma Lazarus
That's our Statue of Liberty. That's nearly as old as our country. Something tells me that the history isn't what moves you, but the convenience of calling upon it -- conditionally.
6. The Bottom Line: It's an Ultimatum. Make it stop.
How many more victims is gun violence going to claim? How many unarmed black civilians? How many children in classrooms? How many women killed by their abusers? How many LGBTQIA murdered? How many hate crimes? How many concert halls, schools, movie theatres, colleges, cities?
How many people are going to die for your "god-given right" to kill if you "need" to with the little black machines you swear are locked in a metal box somewhere, while the victims pile up on classroom floors say otherwise?
That's sick, I know. Welcome to the demented age of our nation, where this is being reported on every screen, and we do nothing. Nothing.