Written by Allison Hatch
“We are going to be the last mass shooting”.
It is a hopeful but firm announcement that students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School made on CNN last weekend. The shooting at their school on February 14th left 17 dead. Again. Thoughts and Prayers. Mourning. When will there be consequences?
They could not come soon enough. In December, just after the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, a journalist asked Trump’s press secretary Sarah Sanders at the White House press briefing what Trump has done to try to protect Americans against a similar type of massacre. Sanders promptly replied that Trump recognized his number one responsibility is to protect American citizens, but upon considering a regulation that could have been implemented to prevent such shootings, she was “not aware of what that would be.”
I remember the Sandy Hook shooting in great detail, where 20 children between six and seven-years-old and six adults were killed. I can recall the moment I heard about the shooting vividly. It was after school, and I was sitting on my parents’ bed when I received the breaking news alert. Tears streamed down my face thinking about all of the young kids killed, right before the holidays. From 1966 to 2018, there have been 150 mass shootings in the US, with a mass shooting denoting an incident during which four or more people are killed.
Since first moving to Europe, the two questions I’m most frequently asked when people find out that I’m American are: (1) what do you think about Trump? and (2) do you own a gun? it’s hard to properly articulate how frustrating and disheartening the reality of American politics is, particularly while witnessing the government unravel from afar. Really, not everyone likes Trump or owns a gun.
It’s hard to explain to most Europeans how numb you begin to feel towards gun violence. In my hometown of Cincinnati, there were 62 homicides and 426 shootings in 2016, meaning more than one incident of gun violence per day in a city of about 300,000 people. When I was six-years-old, a woman was shot and killed in a drug deal on my street. When I was ten, my elementary school went on lockdown after a man who robbed a nearby bank with a gun ran by the school. At the time, my brother’s class was outside for recess, so his teacher hid them in the corner of the baseball diamond and stood in front as a shield. There have been a handful of nights when my family and I having dinner heard gunfire nearby – we have become accustomed to distinguishing its echoing ring.
Gun control is a divisive topic in the US, where four in ten households own guns. The typical discourse stems from the infamous right to bear arms under the Second Amendment. Americans claim their fundamental freedom to pursue a life of security and safety by individualistic modes of protection, rather than paternalistic governmental measures. This results in people thinking that only more guns will protect us against the rising amount of gun-related violence. Take Ohio, where rather than reducing gun ownership, new laws expanded the right to carry a concealed weapon in colleges, universities, airport terminals, and perhaps most appallingly, child care centers. Meanwhile, a 2016 report from the Ohio Attorney General found that 46,364 more concealed gun carrying licenses were issued than the year before.
I recognize that I grew up in a liberal bubble, where my family, my friends, and my schools have all been left-leaning, and consequently, typically in favor of tighter gun restrictions. Yet growing up in a state, and even more so, a city, heavily divided on gun control, I wanted to hear a perspective from the other side of the debate. I asked a woman who identifies as very conservative and a supporter of the National Rifle Association what her thoughts were about guns, and Trump’s response after the Las Vegas massacre in November, which left 58 dead. She said that one of the proposed policies for tighter gun control would be “psychological evaluation” of individuals as a means of assessing the mental health of all potential gun owners before they are allowed to purchase any guns. She argued that such evaluation would be subjective, “Would ‘the left’ trust doctors appointed by [the] Trump administration, to determine if they’re mentally stable? I know I wouldn’t have trusted the Obama administration!” While it may seem hard to understand how one’s perception could be so drastically shaped with an “us vs. them” mentality, simply watch this ad from the National Rifle Association; the organization’s attempt to paint a dystopian view of the United States feels eerily similar to Aldous Huxley’s “World State”.
It’s safe to say that any American you speak to will tell you how torn apart the country is at the present moment, and especially given the polarizing nature of the current president. The recent mass shootings have simply added fuel to the fire in perpetuating a leftist push for gun control and a conservative push back. With every new mass shooting, we as a nation continue to become more desensitized. Instead of taking any progressive measures to even remotely alleviate gun violence, millions of Americans turn to what feels like a canned response of praying for the victims and the families. The most recent Florida shooting once again made me feel frustrated, lost, and emotionally depleted, knowing that I too, belong to the “mass shooting generation”. The midterms are this year in the US, and I can only hope that with these elections Americans come together to vote for politicians in favor of tighter gun control.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High are not letting Washington get away with lackluster messages of empathy. When Trump tweeted a detestable message blaming the FBI for the shooting by focusing too much on potential Russian collusion, survivors were quick to respond. Students nationwide have taken to the streets in a collective action of solidarity, including my former high school. It’s a movement which shows no sign of stopping. March For Our Lives, an initiative organized in part by students from Parkland, is taking place on March 24th in Washington, with thousands of people gathering to “demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress” on gun control. Walkouts, sit-ins, and marches will take place across the US on April 20th, the anniversary of the Columbine shooting. On this day, students are planning on walking out of classrooms nationwide and not returning until Congress actually introduces and enacts gun legislation. People have had enough with the government’s inaction. It’s about time our politicians realize that thoughts and prayers are not enough after mass shootings, and it’s about time that our country stops ignoring the gun violence happening on a daily basis in our most vulnerable communities. A gun-free society is not utopian, at stake is not a partisan political ideology: it is the lives of American children.