I have absolutely no qualms about opening this brief piece with a statement that, for some incomprehensible reason, is considered to be contentious:
Your prayers are worthless.
I’m not sorry to say it. I don’t care if that makes me heartless in your eyes. In fact, the extent to which I do not care is somewhat staggering. Over the past few days, since watching a video of a classroom not unlike the ones where I spent my high school years, I have been wrestling through some of the most tremendous anger that I have felt in my life. I have had trouble sleeping. I’ve spent hours disregarding my responsibilities, only able to scroll through the Twitter accounts of those who survived the most recent shooting in Florida. Most recent. It’s getting hard to keep track, isn’t it? Columbine is no longer the deadliest mass shooting at a high school in US history. On average, twenty-four children are shot every day in the USA. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed. Nothing has changed.
My sister is ten years old. She lives in Wisconsin, halfway across the country from where I go to school in Massachusetts. Every day, there is a part of my mind that expects to see her name and her face in the news as a victim of our oh-so-beloved country’s most recent mass shooting. And that isn’t delusion: that isn’t my chronic anxiety getting the better of me, plunging me into irrational paranoia. It is vigilance. It is not unrealistic to fear for my baby sister’s life. She is a fan of Minecraft, American Girl dolls, and visual art. In the sunroom of our house, her watercolor paintings are taped up above her drawing desk. One of our cats, an orange heap of fluff named Tansy, loves my sister more than anyone else in the world; she tolerates being dragged around the house and incessantly dressed up.
How many of the fourteen students murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were younger siblings? Don’t be fooled by the coldness of a numerical representation. Look at their faces. They are not hurt. They are not permanently disabled. They are not comatose. They are dead. The present and future of our planet will continue without them. They will not finish the books they were reading. They will not finish the homework weighing over their heads. They will not reciprocate any Valentine’s Day flirtations. They will not set foot inside a college. They will not get married. They will not have children. They will not get to say goodbye to their parents, their friends, their partners, their pets. And the traces of them will not go away. Their social media accounts will remain static ad infinitum. Their families will need to clean out their rooms, choose whether to sell their belongings.
The AR-15 used to commit these crimes was purchased legally.
The president and the political right are happy to proclaim that this violence would continue with or without stronger gun control, but in this case, they are wrong. Nikolas Cruz would not have vanquished seventeen infinities if such control were in place.
With gun control, Alyssa Alhadeff would still be playing soccer.
With gun control, Scott Beigel would still be teaching history.
With gun control, Martin Duque’s brother would not be going through the very scenario that terrifies me every day.
With gun control, Nick Dworet would have joined the swim team at the University of Indianapolis this fall.
With gun control, Aaron Feis would still be assistant coaching football.
With gun control, Jamie Guttenberg would be wrapping up her first year of high school.
With gun control, Chris Hixon would still be giving lunch money to students who didn’t have their own.
With gun control, Luke Hoyer would not have been buried before his grandparents.
With gun control, Cara Loughran would still be performing Irish dance.
With gun control, Gina Montalto would have someday picked out a prom dress.
With gun control, Joaquin “Guac” Oliver would still be listening to hip-hop and enthusing over sports with his girlfriend, Victoria.
With gun control, Alaina Petty would continue to do volunteer work, as she did in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
With gun control, Meadow Pollack would be attending Lynn University in a few months.
With gun control, Helena Ramsey would still be engaged in relentless motivation towards her academic studies.
With gun control, Alex Schachter would have continued to hone his talent for trombone playing.
With gun control, Carmen Schentrup would have taken advantage of her status as a National Merit Scholar semifinalist in her college applications.
With gun control, Peter Wang would not be absent from the ROTC program at his school.
With gun control, I may soon enough be saying, my sister would have been able to come home and work on her gorgeous array of watercolor paintings.
Did you skim that list? Did your eyes glaze over? Did you find it repetitive or boring? Do you remember even three of the names I just told you?
And yet you send families your “prayers.” And you go back to enjoying your illusion of safety. You keep vaguely hoping that your child, your sibling, your grandchild won’t be next.
There are people who will say these deaths should not be politicized. I believe they should not be romanticized. I’ve watched the videos. I’ve seen the children lying in pools of blood. Seventeen lives are now lost, and countless more are broken.
A week ago, no one predicted this. This Monday, these kids were making weekend plans.
When will the next one be? It could be today. It could be tomorrow. But it will come. We’ll all see the trending tag on Twitter, or we’ll hear about it on the radio, or we’ll get our own calls from the hospital and learn that this time, we weren’t so lucky.
Our passivity is pathetic. This seven-year-old girl, living with PTSD, was more effective than every single person who tweets their “prayers” or their “grief” or their “sympathy.”
We need to push for better gun control now. The argument that violence will continue even with control is utterly irrelevant. If gun control saves one life--just one--it will be worth the tedium. This time, it could have saved seventeen.
Silence is compliance. Your prayers save no one. We need to make change, and we need it now, before hundreds more lives are shattered in the space of a single unexpected day.