Trigger Warning: Guns and school shootings
This is not an argument for why guns are good or bad, nor why they should or should not be regulated. This article is to show how school shootings have affected the lives of young people across the nation by sharing my own perspective.
I am not sure why the shooting in Boulder, Colorado hit me so hard, but it did. Could it have been because it took place miles away from my second choice for college, University of Colorado, Boulder? Could it be because I have family living in Colorado? Is it because I have a fondness for Colorado’s landscapes?
Maybe it is because I am fed up with innocent people being killed and I am terrified the next one may be me.
Most students are familiar with fire drills and if you grew up near a fault line, earthquake drills as well. Some older generations had air raid drills. I have active shooter drills.
From kindergarteners to high school seniors, students routinely practice their reaction to a person roaming their school’s hallways with a gun. In these situations, some students are assigned to create a blockade of stacked desks and others black out the windows with construction paper.
I am angry because this should not be a reality for what the world looks like. It is terrifying to be a teenager going to school with the possibility that your school may be the next location of a shooting.
I have walked down hallways imagining which fire extinguisher was close enough to grab and somehow use as a weapon if a situation occurred. I have had nightmares reenacting my worst fear — a school shooter.
I grew up learning that mass shootings were bad. These horrific events are remembered once a year when their anniversary rolls around and survivors speak out on primetime talk shows.This problem has been around so long it even made it into our school’s outdated textbooks.
I assume I had a reckoning with reality around my junior year of high school in 2018. After the Las Vegas shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in 2017, I recognized the situation but was still in denial. Less than four months later, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida occurred. This incident was different. The victims were my age.
I saw versions of myself in the victims and in the survivors. They looked like me, they were on social media, they were taking the same classes as me, they were applying for college and taking. AP tests, just like me. I read their testimonies on Instagram as tears welled up in my eyes before I entered math class because I could have easily been in their situation.
I could have been the one making a tribute post for the victims. I could have lost my favorite teacher and been going to their memorial. I could have lost my lifelong best friend who was sitting in class just upstairs.
The high school survivors of the Parkland shooting met up in their parents’ dining room to write letters to politicians. They urged me to do it too and I did. I watched as Never Again MSD transformed into March for Our Lives, a nationwide movement. I watched these 17-year-old school shooting survivors grace the cover of Time.
I am beyond lucky to never have never lost someone I knew personally to a shooting, but the opposite is true for too many.
After Parkland, school shootings in Santa Fe, Santa Clarita and more followed — too many to name them all. They were memorialized just like the University of Texas, Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook.
Being a high school student and having to digest these emotions and anxieties is hard to describe to those who have not gone through it before.
I would walk into school tense. I could not concentrate on the learning material because of the anxiety and uneasiness coursing through my veins.
This feeling was not just felt by me, but by millions of students throughout the nation who have hidden in their school’s closets, millions of students who prepared the last text they would send to their parents and millions of students who ran through back doors.
For weeks I jumped when the school’s loudspeaker came on. At the time I did not understand how wrong it was for a teenager to feel this much fear and anxiety over a shooter being on my high school campus, a place where my parents sent me confident I would be safe.
The older generations who vote on gun laws and regulations do not know the panic that makes one’s heart freeze. They do not understand the nerves that are set off when the alarm bell goes off during a test and no one can figure out if it is a drill or real.
The lights go off, voices come to a silence. The sound of children breathing and the air conditioner hum is all that can be heard. A door opens in the hallway. Thoughts flood in, “Are they here to help or hurt? Is a student locked out because they were in the bathroom when the alarm went off? Is there more than one person? Is that security? Is it the police?” Wind makes the building creak and shadows from the trees fly by the window.
We are all shaky, staring at each other with blank faces, frightened of the possibilities. The principal comes over the loudspeaker with the all-clear and we go back to our test. Nothing changes besides my hand shaking as I turn in my test and head to the next class.
Since I graduated high school nothing has changed on a substantial level. My little sister walks into the same high school with the exact same threats and fears I faced.
My elementary-aged neighbors learn how to squeeze 23 of their bodies into a corner to avoid being seen if a shooter walks by the window. They learn the bright pink tape is laid down where the line of sight from the hallway ends.
CNN independently analyzed data from school shootings across the nation because there is no universal database. The data revealed that in 2018, 37 individuals were killed and 68 were injured from a school shooting. A dramatic increase, which is moving exponentially fast when compared to five years earlier in 2013, when only six were killed and 11 were injured from a school shooting.
I want to go to school to learn and to see my friends. To discover what a Bunsen burner is and memorize the 27 Amendments. I want to be a teenager.However, the threat of school shootings obstructs the learning environment.
Society cannot keep pretending to move on because the next generation is dealing with trauma which can not be erased with the signing of the president’s signature on gun legislation. Whether gun regulation or laws are enacted in five years or 10 years, it will not make a difference because change needed to happen yesterday in order to prevent today’s tragedies.
We cannot keep pretending because it is still happening, it is not right, lives are still being lost and children are now forced to live with this trauma.