I am 18 years old. In my short lifetime, there have been more mass shootings in this country than I can keep track of. I have grown up with these tragedies being a common occurrence. I know what it is like to wonder if I will come home from school every day. I know what it is like to go to a concert and not be able to fully enjoy it because my fear of being shot overpowers my ability to have fun. I know what it is like to walk around with the fear and the knowledge that I am not completely safe from gun violence anywhere I go. My life has been defined by dates of tragedies that should not have happened.
On December 12, 2012, I watched the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Shooting unfold on my living room TV as my 10-year-old brothers and I watched news coverage of the shooting after school with our mom. I was not aware of any other shootings happening prior to this one, so I thought it was a freak thing. Later that night, my mom asked me if I felt safe in my school. I told her that, while I was shaken up by the shooting at Sandy Hook, I felt safe at my school because I didn’t think it could happen there.
On December 2, 2015, I watched news coverage of the San Bernadino shooting. I was a sophomore in high school, and it was a Wednesday night. By this time, I was desensitized to mass shootings. I thought about it for a short amount of time, then moved on because I had homework and other things on my mind. I knew what had happened was bad, but I didn’t think it affected me or that I could do anything about it.
On June 12, 2016, I woke up in a hotel room with my best friend the night after a concert. When we went downstairs for breakfast, we saw headlines about a shooting at a LGBT+ nightclub in Florida. As I watched the coverage and ate my breakfast, I couldn’t taste the food I was eating. Later, I learned that 49 people were killed. It was impossible for me to comprehend that number. But, like the rest of the world, I forgot about it.
On October 2, 2017, I woke up to news of a mass shooting–the deadliest in US history– in Las Vegas at a Jason Aldean performance. The death count was 59– again, an unfathomable number. I watched videos analyzing the shooter’s angle and placement. I saw a video one of the survivors took while the shooting was happening. I read survivors’ accounts of their experience. I felt numb, and I began to realize that as these tragedies were becoming more frequent, I could easily be a victim of one of them.
On February 14, 2018, I got home from school and went on Twitter. There were reports of a shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida. I turned on the TV to see news coverage. I will never forget the images I saw of students– my age– running for their lives through their schoolyards and down the sidewalk with their hands behind their heads, clinging onto their friends and dropping their bookbags into a pile. This one felt more personal. I saw myself and my friends in the kids who died and the kids who survived. I knew then that this kind of thing could happen to me.
On March 14, 2018, I led the walkout at my high school in solidarity with the Parkland kids. I shouldn’t have had to do this, but I did because I could not be silent anymore. People across the country were dying constantly because of senseless gun violence that could be stopped, and I realized my voice needed to be among those that stopped it.
On March 24, 2018, I attended the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. along with some of my best friends and favorite teachers. I was exhausted after having planned the trip. I was sick because of how rundown my body was. But, I had never felt more alive. I watched young people my age stand up on a stage in front of a million people and tell horrific stories of their experiences with gun violence. Their parents, brothers, sisters, friends and teachers had all been killed by an epidemic that has run rampant in our nation for years.
On May 18, 2018, I was sitting in the library during my free period. I saw headlines on Twitter: “Student Opens Fire at Santa Fe High School.” I felt like I couldn’t breathe. In my next class, I read another headline: “Multiple Dead in Texas High School Shooting.” I wondered how many “multiple” was. Was it five? Ten? Twenty students and their teachers? At lunch, I found out it was ten. Ten people just like me, my peers, and my teachers. Ten more young lives taken unnecessarily. Ten more people who didn’t deserve to die. Ten more faces that would be shown across the screens of millions of TVs across the country then disappear in a flash, as if they had never lived or died.
I don’t know if I will graduate. I don’t know if I will make it through my last days of high school. I don’t know if I will walk across that stage until I take my last step off of it. And none of that is because I have failing grades. None of it is because I have bad behavior. None of it is because I don’t meet the credit requirement. It is because my chances of being shot at school are higher than my chances of failing a class at this point. No student should have to wonder if they will graduate when they are less than 3 weeks away from doing so. No student should have to face the very real fear that there could be a shooting at their graduation.
So many of you call yourselves pro-life, but you value your “right” to access military-grade assault rifles over human lives. You treat this issue as if it is a grey area, as if there is no straightforward, black-and-white answer. But there is. Human lives should be worth more to you than guns. If you are so worried about your right to bear arms, what about the right of these people to life? What about my right to go to school and worry more about my studies than being shot? If you value owning an assault weapon over a person’s basic right to life, then your humanity has been lost.
A High School Student
Photo: OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA