I get to spend Wednesdays hanging out with high school students as part of an after-school mentoring program. I love Wednesdays. Valentine’s Day was on a Wednesday this year, so naturally, the students asked me quite a bit about my relationship status. (It’s really not that complicated—I’m just single, but somehow that was pretty difficult for them to understand.)
Toward the end of the workshop, we were talking about food from different cultures, and I mentioned, “One time this guy gave me potato chips from India and they were so good.”
“Wait!” one of the students said. “I thought you said you’ve never had a boyfriend.”
“I just said he gave me potato chips,” I said.
“Why would he give you potato chips if he wasn’t your boyfriend?” the student asked.
I was still laughing, baffled by our conversation, as I took my coat off the coat rack and walked the students out to the bus, which was waiting outside. After I hugged them goodbye and they got onto the bus, I reached into my pocket and checked my phone.
I had a notification from NBC news, which read: “At least 17 people were killed in a South Florida high school shooting. A former student is in custody.”
Think about it for a minute: What is the last interaction you had with a high school student?
Allow yourself to really take it in. Do you have a sibling in high school? What’s the last thing that he or she said to you? If you’re in high school, recall the last conversation you had with one of your classmates before you drove home from school. Close your eyes. Remember the voices, the speech patterns, the phrases that only high school students use. Keep your eyes closed until you can vividly picture the expression on that high school student’s face.
Seventeen people were murdered for going to school that Wednesday. Fourteen of them were high school students.
Evil has existed for as far back as humans can remember, but this doesn’t provide me any solace, and it certainly doesn’t provide any solace to the kids who had to watch their friends die. They were texting their parents, telling them how much they loved them and how scared they were. Can you imagine?
They took videos of the shooting, and you can watch them and hear gunshots and then screams. Kids were screaming because their friends were beside them getting murdered and they didn’t know if they were next. They hid in closets for hours as the dead bodies of their friends and teachers lay outside. They are only in high school, and they will have to live with this memory for the rest of their lives.
There is no way to reckon with this, no way to excuse this, no way to process this. This isn’t the way the world is meant to be.
I am not in policymaking. I don’t understand all the nuances of gun control. But children are being murdered in my own country, and I cannot stomach the idea of sitting back and watching this happen. The gun control debate in our country has been incredibly divisive for as long as I can remember, and neither side is perfect. I wish I had an easy answer. I wish I knew exactly what legislation needs to pass in order to prevent another school shooting without infringing upon the fundamental rights of the American people. Trust me, if I did, I would be using every platform I have to make it known.
But the reality is that this debate is far more complicated that any of us can begin to recognize, and in order to make progress, we must acknowledge that. Mass shootings are a uniquely American problem because the extent to which guns are a keystone of our culture is a uniquely American phenomenon. Would it be naive to believe that a gun buyback program like the one in Australia would work here, when Australia never had a comparable number of guns or gun supporters?
And then there’s the question of the 2nd Amendment. As soon as we no longer respect our Constitution, our country will fall apart, because the Constitution is what guarantees us the right to protest, to speak out against the government, to vote, to tell police officers they can’t come in our homes without a warrant. We must acknowledge that it also gives us the right to arm ourselves in case the government grows to be too tyrannical—which was a perfectly valid concern at the time it was written.
So what does that mean, how does it apply in today’s world, and how can we ensure that when we seek to protect the lives of the American people, we don’t somehow undermine the Constitution?
Would the same legislation that would have prevented Parkland also have prevented the shootings at Sandy Hook? What about the countless gun deaths that occur as a result of domestic violence or gang violence? How can we ensure that the NRA’s First Amendment right to lobby the government doesn’t infringe upon our inalienable right to life?
Instead of asking these difficult and complicated questions, people are covering their ears to the opposing argument. I see it on Facebook every single day. Very few people acknowledge the complexity and difficulty of this gun death epidemic facing our country. People care more about their political ideology than about saving lives.
Meanwhile, children are being murdered. So maybe it’s high time to sit around a table with people you usually disagree with, and ask these difficult questions. We won’t get anything done if we continue to sit in corners with our arms folded and pout, “No! I’m right!”
Think back to those high school students that you know. These students have a legitimate fear that they will be shot and killed when they go to school. In a country where citizens have such an extensive ability to participate in the political system, there is absolutely no reason that we should accept this as fact.
Nothing I can do will mitigate the pain that the students in Parkland will have to suffer the rest of their lives. That is a reality I will never be able to process.
And yet I refuse to accept the idea that this will be a reality for countless more students in the future. The gun control debate may be messy and complicated, but it is well worth it. I promise to sit down and have these ugly conversations. I promise to exercise my right to protest, to engage in debate, to do as much research on the topic as I can.
This country was fundamentally founded upon the inalienable right to life, and the quintessential role of government is to protect this right. High school students across the country have organized a march that, at its core, exists to promote their right to live. High school students are putting in the work. They’re researching, they’re debating, they’re asking the difficult questions.
As Emma Gonzalez said in her speech, they “will be the kids you read about in textbooks.” I believe she’s right, because she is putting in the work that it takes to make a difference.
If I owe anything to the high school students I love so much, it’s to march for their lives. I don’t know what it will take to ensure that I never get another notification telling me that kids — just like them — were murdered, but I will not rest until we come up with something.