Valentine’s Day: it’s a day to celebrate love, passion and friendship. On that day, St. Olaf students fill their friends’ P.O. boxes with flowers and spend valuable time with loved ones. Children around the country indulge in pounds of candy and give special Valentines to their crush. Couples celebrate their joy and milestones. It should be a day full of happiness and laughter.
Valentine’s Day 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida: the day 17 classmates and teachers were murdered in yet another school shooting.
The school was prepared, as every elementary, middle and high school in America believes they are. They had practiced lockdown drills and they have security systems and restricted entrances. But in less than two hours, a single gunman had taken 17 innocent lives while hundreds of students and teachers huddled in corners of their classrooms, praying for safety.
According to the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, this shooting marks the 18th school shooting this year. Not this decade, not this lifetime, not this generation – this year. In 2018, the United States has experienced an average of about three school shootings per week.
After every mass shooting, activist groups attempt to tug at the heartstrings of gun-loving lawmakers, begging them to implement harsher gun control and confronting their old-fashioned obsession with the Second Amendment. It’s the same every time: the President offers condolences to the families, we read articles about the victims and survivors and schools implement more lockdown drills. Repeat, repeat, repeat until we’re numb to school shootings.
But with Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it’s not the typical repetition.
This is because the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School aren’t idly sitting back, passively waiting for change while they attend funerals for their classmates. The survivors of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are fiercely fighting back as the namesake of the school and women’s suffrage advocate, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, did in her lifetime. Douglas once said: “Speak up. Learn to talk clearly and forcefully in public … Be a nuisance where it counts, but don’t be a bore at any time … Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action … Be depressed, discouraged and disappointed at failure and the disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, corruption and bad politics – but never give up.”
The students refuse to stay silent and let this “new normal” of school shootings continue. Most of these students aren’t even old enough to vote, yet they are determined to establish logical change in their country. Parkland survivor Alex Wind said, “In Newtown the students were so young they couldn’t stand up but trust me – we are going to be the change.” Wind and four of his friends created the Never Again campaign almost immediately following the shooting. The students, along with other classmates, have lobbied for hours on end, written speeches, travelled 450 miles to the state capital and used their debate skills to attempt to change the minds of lawmakers.
As I write this in the comfort of the St. Olaf Library, students, families and teachers are returning to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for the first time since the shooting for a three-hour orientation. The maturity and bravery of these students are impeccable, yet why should they have to grow up so fast? When I was in elementary school, I don’t remember having lockdown drills several times a year. I remember fire and tornado drills, but I have no memory of becoming so used to lockdown drills at such a young age that it became like second nature to rush into the corner of the classroom, hide under tables and avoid windows.
High school students shouldn’t have to worry about facing a gun in their schools. They should be focusing on college applications, their education, even prom dates. Anything but seeing a gun murder their classmates. It’s time lawmakers realize this and face the facts. We are experiencing dozens of school shootings a year and something must change. And it’s not about mental illness.
Let me repeat that: This is not an issue of mental illness.
I know, President Trump, it’s so easy to blame it on mental illness and avoid your job. You would much rather play golf with your conservative lawmaker buddies and avoid the fact that at that moment, kindergarteners could be losing their lives because you don’t understand that guns have changed too much to still be protected under the Second Amendment. It is completely unnecessary for anyone to have a gun able to murder seventeen individuals in less than two hours. If high school students are able to understand this, why can’t you?
Katie Anderson ’20 (firstname.lastname@example.org) is from Saint Paul, Minn. She majors in English and music.