On Feb. 14, the country was once again horrified by news of another school shooting, this time at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
Seventeen dead; 14 injured; thousands traumatized.
Since then, Americans have seen fiery activism that has not followed past shootings. This spark came from the survivors of this tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Rather than accepting politicians’ meaningless words, student survivors reinvigorated a movement for common-sense gun reform by organizing marches, taking part in town halls and raising their voices against a stagnant set of gun policies badly in need of change.
Parkland has brought a new era upon the gun reform movement: Today’s youth will no longer accept this violence as normal. Instead, we will fight to make our schools, communities and country safer by fighting for policies that protect people — not guns.
Almost 19 years earlier, on April 20, 1999, the entire world stood still as two gunmen killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado. I was born one month later. I have never known a country in which school massacres do not exist.
In elementary school, my friends and I had to participate in active shooter drills. When we were young, we never understood why we had to crouch against the wall and remain completely silent. But, like too many in this country, I learned why the hard way.
Vicki Soto, my cousin, was a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when she gave her life protecting her students during a mass shooting that killed 26 students and teachers Dec. 14, 2012.
Activists said “no more” after Sandy Hook. We said “no more” after Orlando. We said “no more” after Las Vegas.
Yet, there were more.
There were more children who saw their classmates killed in front of them. There were more teachers who sacrificed their own lives so their students could live. There were more parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and friends who saw the faces of loved ones on the evening news and wondered: “Next time, will it be me?”
Five years after the shooting at Sandy Hook, almost nothing has changed in the realm of gun policy. This time feels different, however. When I see the students from Parkland tweet #NeverAgain, I hear the courage and anger in their voices and their undeniable dedication to make an impact.
This country’s adults have failed to protect their children, and politicians have prioritized donations from the National Rifle Association over human lives. Just a week after the shooting in Florida, CNN hosted a town hall in which Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) refused to give a clear answer to Cameron Kasky, a survivor of the tragedy, who asked if Rubio would continue to take money from the NRA.
Our generation has to find the best place to hide in a classroom, just in case a shooter comes to our campus. Our generation’s future children will be going to school with the awareness of the terror we endured. We do not want to be afraid anymore.
In the past week, student activism for gun control has soared. School walkouts and protests spearheaded by young people have swept the country. The students from Stoneman Douglas have organized the March for Our Lives, which is set to take place March 24 in Washington, D.C., along with partner marches in cities across the country. The event has received donations from celebrities including George Clooney and Oprah Winfrey and is nearing its $2 million goal.
Activists and lawmakers have called for legislation to help prevent future mass shootings. Potential methods include universal background checks on all gun sales, a ban on gun modifications such as bump stocks and large capacity magazines and — perhaps most importantly — a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
All of these suggestions would greatly aid in the prevention and reduction of gun violence. However, the Florida legislature voted against a ban on semiautomatic weapons Tuesday with survivors of the Parkland shooting in attendance, foreshadowing the hard work that lies ahead.
No longer will this generation sit on the sidelines and watch as more people die in churches, theaters and schools. If people discredit us because we are “too young,” we will become louder. We will only become more committed to our cause.
Along with thousands of others, I will fight for the people we have lost to a bullet from a gun. We will fight for this country. We will fight for the future.
Zachary Fagan is a freshman in the School of Nursing and Health Studies.