Last Wednesday, 17 people died after a young man entered his former Florida high school and brought death in the form of an assault rifle capable of firing 45 rounds a minute.
Many people, including myself, thought that after the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting — in which 20 children between the ages of six and seven died, along with six adults — things might change in the U.S. with respect to gun laws.
Nothing changed. And since then, what we have seen is a lot of handwringing. We’ve seen politicians offer thoughts and prayers, and little else. We’ve seen more parents mourning the loss of their children before they even got a chance to grow up.
Last week we heard the usual platitudes about thoughts and prayers, and there were the standard stories with survivors describing the horror-filled minutes until rescue.
But I was astonished and inspired to see a new emotion emerge from the grief. That new emotion was anger and it came from the survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school shooting.
Last Saturday, Emma Gonzalez, a senior at the high school spoke at a gun control rally. You could feel the anger, even as she dashed the tears from her face with an impatient hand.
In her speech, Gonzales made a promise: “We are going to be the kids you read about in textbooks. Not because we’re going to be another statistic about mass shooting in America, but because (…) we are going to be the last mass shooting. Just like Tinker v. Des Moines, we are going to change the law. That’s going to be Marjory Stoneman Douglas in that textbook and it’s going to be due to the tireless effort of the school board, the faculty members, the family members and most of all the students.”
This generation of youth knows nothing about going to school where the biggest tragedy is a bad perm or an unexpected end to romance. They have grown up post-Columbine, 19 years ago.
I believe her. Across the country, students have served notice. They are mobilizing — two marches are already planned, a voter registration campaign is underway — and they are raising their voices.
This is not the kind of anger meant to hurt. It’s the kind of anger coming from strong and powerful feelings caused by injury, injustice, indignation.
And who can blame them? This generation of youth knows nothing about going to school where the biggest tragedy is a bad perm or an unexpected end to romance. They have grown up post-Columbine, 19 years ago.
These are youth who have passed metal detectors and security guards on their school grounds; they have practiced endless active shooter drills. Their schools are not places to learn and grow, but places to experience violence and death.
Gonzales said in her speech U.S. President Donald Trump had received $30 million from the National Rifle Association, or an average of $5,800 per gunshot victim from the first month and a half of 2018 alone.
“The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice and our parents to call BS (…) Politicians who sit in their gilded House and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun. We call BS. They say guns are just tools like knives and are as dangerous as cars. We call BS. They say no laws could have prevented the hundreds of senseless tragedies that have occurred. We call BS. That us kids don’t know what we’re talking about, that we’re too young to understand how the government works. We call BS.”
In the aftermath, proponents of gun ownership suggested arming teachers and other staff, of increasing patrols, of modifying existing building to resist intruders. I thought to myself those places already exist; they are called prisons.
And like Gonzales, I too call BS.
I hope the power of their anger continues to fuel the vision these students hold for the future.
Martha Muzychka is a St. Johns writer. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org