Another School Shooting, Will This Time Be Different?


For me, it’s the parents. It’s the pictures of them waiting outside the site of the latest school shooting, wondering if their child was going to walk out of that school building alive. It’s so excruciating to see them go through what will forever be – whether their children survived or not – one of the worst moments of their lives. After Sandy Hook, I imagined how terrible it must have been for those 20 sets of parents just watching other families be reunited with their children, feeling their hearts sink lower minute by minute, trying to hold on to their hope for just one second more. It was for those parents that I forced myself to look at pictures of those 20 shining little faces, to bear witness to the wonder that was their child, to share in their grief the only way I could. I hoped never to be faced with that task in the future, yet here we are. Again.

After 20 elementary school children were slaughtered in what was the most horrific school shooting at that time, I was convinced that we would do something about gun violence in the United States. I thought that the American people would never allow innocent children to be massacred, that the silver lining in the tragedy would be sensible gun control. At long last, we would decide that we cherish the lives of our friends, families and neighbors more than we value inanimate objects of death. I was wrong. Not only did the vast number of states and the federal government do nothing (to their immense credit, Connecticut, New York and Maryland passed gun control measures) but more school shootings occurred. Again.

In the time that I’ve had this blog, I’ve written about gun violence over eight times. I’ve written about all the things  (Photo: JOHN MCCALL, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)people are once more discussing: the increased need for mental health services, the toxic mix of masculinity and guns, options for preventing violence, the need for more mental health services in the military and improving mental health treatment. I even said that I wouldn’t blog about gun violence anymore because there’s nothing left to be said. But here I am, writing another post. Again.

But maybe this time will be different. Unlike the school shooting at Columbine, this time we have social media and, sadly, enough experience with gun violence to know what to expect. The students who were hiding from the gunman had the resources and courage to film themselves talking about what they were experiencing, giving everyone terrifying first-hand accounts that cannot be ignored. The violence at Columbine played out in newspapers and on television, places that can be removed from people’s daily experience. Social media is everywhere and we can’t look away. We’ve now heard their terror and seen their grief. Our emotions are engaged in a way they haven’t been before and that’s an incredibly powerful motivator.

This time we have educated and articulate victims who refuse to be silenced. Unlike the massacre at Sandy Hook where most of the survivors were children, the people most affected in the Parkland school shooting are young adults who can speak for themselves. And they’re angry. They know that all of the people present at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that day – from teachers and students to parents and first responders – will be forever changed. That’s how trauma works. Yet instead of keeping a low profile, they’re determined to make a difference. These brave students realize that, to keep this from happening again, they need to raise their voices, call out hypocrisy and scream their grief at those responsible. To turn a phrase: they’re here, they’re in fear and they’re not going to let us get used to it.

This time conservative talking points are being directly confronted by the only people they cannot dismiss: survivors. Senior David Hogg has been all over the airwaves, leveling strong words at our leaders. “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take some action and play a role. Work together. Come over your politics and get something done.” On Twitter, several young women engaged the typical conservative response (in this case, offered by Tomi Lahren) about school shootings not being about guns. Carly tweeted, “I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.” Another student, Kyra, also responded: “A gun has killed 17 of my fellow classmates. A gun has traumatized my friends. My entire school, traumatized from this tragedy. This could have been prevented. Please stfu tomi.”

This time these young people aren’t going to give political leaders anywhere to hide. Florida Senator Marco Rubio insisted that it was not fair for his Senate colleagues to use the shooting to call for increased gun control in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. In return, he got an earful from Sarah who tweeted: “Dear Marco Rubio, As a student who was inside the school while an active shooter was wreaking terror and havoc on my teachers and classmates with an AR-15, I would just like to say, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND.” The president tweeted condolences and also got blowback from a student. She retorted, “I don’t want your condolences you [expletive], my friends and teachers were shot. Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers. Prayers won’t fix this. But Gun control will prevent it from happening again.” The young woman apparently deleted the tweet and apologized for the profanity but later wrote, “I’m thankful for everyone’s thoughts and condolences, but please take your anger and sorrowfulness and direct it towards congress.”

And maybe, just maybe, this time will be different because we as a society have finally had enough. Following Sandy Hook, we’ve endured the Pulse nightclub murders (49 dead, 58 wounded), the Las Vegas massacre (58 dead, 422 wounded) and five school shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths in this year alone. Even the most clueless of people can tell that gun violence is getting more frequent and worse. Perhaps we’ve at last decided that seeing parents with their stoic expressions as they fear the worst, standing in a prayer huddle as they seek comfort or dissolving into tears when they learn the fate of their child is more than we can bear. Something can be done to prevent this. In fact, a lot of things can be done to keep this from happening. We just need to have the courage and the energy to make the necessary changes. This time we need to be deadly serious when we say NOT AGAIN!

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