11:19, April 20, 1999. It was at this moment that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School and left with the lives of 12 children, 1 teacher, and the pain of an entire country thrown into mourning.
Since then, 122 lives have been cut short by these school massacres. And 19 years later, there are still 7 children and teens killed every day at the barrel of a gun.
It has been 19 years since the Columbine Shooting. 16 years since the University of Arizona. 13 years since Red Lake Senior High. 12 years since West Nickel Mines. 11 years since Virginia Tech. 10 years since Northern Illinois. 6 years since Oikos and Sandy Hook. 4 since Marysville Pilchuck. 3 since Umpqua.
It has been 2 months and 6 days since 17 people died at Stoneman Douglas High, and nothing has changed.
Today, students from schools across the country walked out of their schools at 10:00 a.m. to protest gun violence, the second major walkout in recent months. I went to a walkout organized by the student-run organization LASAC (Los Angeles Student Activist Coalition) held a rally at the Santa Monica City Hall, where they invited protesting students in the L.A. area to meet for a rally at 11:19.
Students started arriving at the rally as early as 10. Students from University High School walked 4.5 miles to reach the protest and middle schoolers from Emerson rode city transportation. Many students skipped school entirely in order to be at the event. The idea behind the rally is simple: nobody should have to go to school worried that they might never go back home. “I shouldn’t have to be here,” one high schooler explained. “This shouldn’t be a continuous issue.” But with a shooter entering a Florida high school that very morning, it doesn’t seem to be going away.
Jasmine is a student at University High School. She stands with her friends on the sides of the cheering crowd in a yellow “revolutionary girl” shirt. “I don’t think it’s fair that I have to go to school every day and fear for my life,” she says when asked about the intent of the rally. “And I don’t think it’s fair for the coming generations to have to learn about how to not become a statistic instead of statistics.” Jasmine’s friend Maribelle folds the poster she is holding, which reads ‘NRA, the blood is on your hands,’ and nods. “I agree with everything she just said.”
But as one LASAC speaker points out, there are a lot of statistics. On average, 96 people will die every day by a gunshot. There are somewhere near 13,000 gun homicides every single year in the U.S. Black men are 13 times more likely to be shot than white men. The United States has the highest gun homicide rate in the world.
And after this, the speaker lists some demands:
“We demand background checks for all gun sales, including at gun shows. We demand a ban on bump stocks and other gun modifiers. We demand that the U.S. Government allows the CDC to research just solutions for gun violence- currently, they’re banned! We demand that the government works to fund youth organizations that are inclusive and accessible to youth. We demand more systemic investigations when agencies are suspected of engaging in patterns of practice violations and discrimination. We demand that Congress closes the “boyfriend” loophole, which allows physically abusive ex-partners and convicted stalkers to buy guns. And finally, as if this isn’t obvious, we demand a full ban on assault weapons and semi-atomic rifles.”
But these demands aren’t new. The gun show loophole was a topic during the 2016 election. The ban of assault weapons has been circulating for some years. And there has been little to no policy change. This is where the focus shifts to politicians and the NRA: the group that is supposed to be protecting the children, and the group that would rather protect the guns.
“And these people, these kids, these adults who are killed daily, I see their murders as robbery.” This is Lea Yamashiro speaking, a representative of LASAC. “These people are our future classmates. They’re our future teammates. They’re our future college roommates. They’re our future colleagues. They’re our future friends. They are our peers and every day they are being stripped ruthlessly away from us and our world. They are being stolen by thieves who take advantage of a system that currently doesn’t stop them from shooting other people.”
Since Columbine, there have been 50 mass murders or attempted mass murders in schools. We are the greatest country in the world. Why can’t we protect our own kids?
I know there are politicians out there who have a heart. I know there are NRA members who are willing to listen. I know you are out there. So please listen.
Nothing will change unless policy changes. Our protests will continue. Our marches will grow larger. We will scream until our mouths are dry and our voices are hoarse and then we will scream some more. We will line up at the voting booth and cast our ballots because that is where the power is – in ballots, not bullets. In the number of people, not the number of dollars.
There has been no change because nobody has the guts to initiate it.
So dear politicians:
If you don’t do it, we will.