By now, I would think that just about everyone is at least vaguely aware of what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. On the off chance that someone reading this is unaware, a gunman walked into the school and opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle, killing 17 people and injuring many more. I feel that it is necessary to address this senseless tragedy. There are certainly people who think that this is the wrong time to talk about what happened and what needs to be done to stop it. I completely understand this viewpoint because children being slaughtered in our nation’s schools is an uncomfortable topic. However, there will never be a “right” time to discuss something like this. It will always be uncomfortable. Mid-American Culture has given me a platform with which to express myself in an uncensored, honest, and very personal way. I am going to use this platform to give my thoughts on the situation as honestly and directly as I possibly can.
I was just over one year old when Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold opened fire on the students at Columbine High School in 1999. The events at Columbine were horrific. News of the shooting dominated the media for weeks and weeks afterward. For the most part, Americans had never experienced something like that before. The thought that children attending school might have to find themselves under attack by deranged gunmen was unprecedented. Citizens and politicians alike were determined to never let anything like this happen again. This, of course, was not what happened. Since Columbine, there have been 25 fatal school shootings in the United States. Myself and my generation have grown up in the era of mass shootings. Politicians have made countless attempts and empty promises regarding the prevention of gun violence during my lifetime. As what happened in Florida clearly shows, nothing has helped. Nothing has helped at all. Many lawmakers aren’t even trying to solve the problem anymore. But, at least we have their thoughts and prayers.
While all mass shootings are obviously horrendous, school shootings hit especially close to home for me. I am a 20 year old college student studying to be a high school teacher. During my first semester of college, I was in an entry level class for education majors. One day, we did not do any work in this class. Instead, the chief of the campus police came to talk to us. The topic was mass shootings. He gave my class some background about mass shootings and what to do in the event of a shooting on campus and things like that. After he left, the woman who taught the class had a conversation with us that I will never forget for the rest of my life. She pointed out the frequency with which school shootings occur in the United States and the undeniable possibility that we, as future teachers, might have to face an active shooter situation one day. She addressed the importance of protecting students at all costs in these situations. We discussed teachers who had given their lives trying to protect students in these situations. I came to the disheartening realization that protecting students from gunfire had become part of the curriculum for those studying to be teachers. Gun violence in our country should never have reached the point where teachers have to be taught how to shield their students from bullets. But, here we are. Some people even take it a step further and say that teachers should carry guns in every school throughout the country. They really think that teachers should be expected to prepare themselves to kill an active shooter, who in many cases would be a student from the very school in which they teach) at a moment’s notice. If those in the field of education wanted to carry a gun and shoot bad guys, they would have entered the field of law enforcement or maybe joined the military. That is not what teachers got into the profession to do. They want to teach. The fact that a teacher having a handgun in his or her desk to fight off an attacker armed with an AR-15 is the best idea that many of our nation’s leaders have for preventing these shootings is sickening. But, at least we have their thoughts and prayers.
As more facts about the school shooting have become available, one thing is increasingly clear: This could have been prevented. Florida has some of the least strict gun laws in the country. Buying an AR-15 rifle is as simple as walking into a gun store, filling out a small form, not having a felony record, being over 18 years old, paying for the gun, and walking out with it. Stricter laws about the sale of firearms very well could have prevented this. In September of 2017, a YouTube user under the username Nikolas Cruz commented that he was going to “become a professional school shooter”. The FBI received a tip about the comment but nothing ever came of it. On February 14, 2018, a 19 year old man named Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School carrying a legally purchased AR-15 rifle and unloaded “countless magazines” of ammo into the students and faculty of the school. President Trump stressed the importance of reporting potential threats to law enforcement after the shooting. What he apparently fails to realize is that Nikolas Cruz was reported to authorities. Under President Obama, regulations were put in place designed to prevent people who are identified as potentially having mental illness that could lead to this kind of attack from purchasing firearms. Critics of gun-control argue that if gun-control laws work, this should have prevented the shooter, who was said to have been known for erratic behavior, from getting a gun. The question is valid. Why didn’t this stop the tragedy in Florida? It is because President Trump signed a bill revoking these mental health checks in late February of last year. In the last few years, the Republican controlled Congress has voted against several pieces of gun-control legislation. Any number of these failed laws could have prevented this attack. But ultimately, Congress gave us no such laws. Fortunately for us, they were courteous enough to offer us their thoughts and prayers.
When I write for this site, particularly about politics, I try to write with as little bias as possible. But, given the circumstances, I am going to admit my bias here. I am biased against mass shooters, the deadly assault weapons many of them use, and the people who do nothing to prevent these attacks. I am biased against the gun lobby who is indirectly responsible for the deadly gun violence epidemic in our country. I am biased against every single politician who takes money from the gun lobby in exchange for pro-gun votes because they find the sound of campaign contributions to be louder than the screams of dying children will ever be. I am biased against the law in the United States that prevents the CDC from researching the national epidemic of gun violence because the NRA against such research. In 1996, Australia was struck by a senseless mass shooting, the likes of which it had never seen. Just weeks afterward, the country enacted some of the strictest gun laws in the world. It banned certain types of firearms and the government bought the firearms back from its citizens as compensation for their loss. There has not been a mass shooting in Australia since. Gun control laws work. When something tragic happens, whether it be drunk driving deaths, workplace accidents, mass shootings, or whatever the case may be, the answer is not to give up. The answer is certainly not to try to solve the problem by introducing more of what caused the problem to begin with. The answer is to eliminate what is causing the problem. Until our government acts, the epidemic of gun violence will not stop. The American people have demanded it in the past. Instead, they were given thoughts and prayers.
I found myself slightly optimistic that real change could occur after the Florida school shooting. The aftermath of the tragedy feels different. People are calling for real change. Our leaders seem passionate about preventing violence from striking again. It did not take long for me to lose this optimism. I remembered how different things felt after the Las Vegas shootings. I remembered how different things felt after the Pulse Nightclub shootings. I remembered how different things felt after the San Bernardino shootings. I remember watching one of my greatest heroes, President Barack Obama, crying after the Sandy Hook shootings. The defeated look on his face said it all. Despite his best efforts, and the efforts of many others, he couldn’t bring about the kind of change that this country needs when it comes to guns. No change will come until the American people demand it. Not everyone will wants to hear this, but thoughts and prayers will not do a damn thing to stop these atrocities. I will not apologize for saying that. I will not apologize for pushing my radically liberal stance of wanting less dead schoolchildren in America. Nobody should ever apologize for saying what is right. The time has come for change. The time is now. Demand it.