An Open Letter on Gun Violence and Growing Up in This Generation

This article does not reflect the views or opinions of Her Campus FSU.

I remember elementary school very well. We still had the FCAT, light-up shoes, silly bandz and projectors. A lot of jokes are made about kids not even knowing what projectors are anymore, but they forget that there is still a whole generation of kids who did grow up with them. Elementary school memories are field days, recesses, waiting on the pavilion to be picked up, or waiting at the office if your parents were really late. The best memories were the books. I used to live in the library! I read every single sunshine state book for several years in a row, and I collected the cute charms my school gave out for each of them. Those are my memories. I can’t imagine the memories now. There was this viral post, I can’t remember where from, about a little kid who came home from school crying that they wanted to get shoes that didn’t light up. They were afraid a shooter would notice them.

Middle school. Smartboards, honors classes and making all new friends. It’s the point of change in pretty much every young adult book you can find. For my generation, middle school took this to a whole new level. Because middle school was the start of a mass shooting epidemic America, we just didn’t know it at the time. I was in sixth grade when the Sandy Hook shooting happened. I don’t remember much, but I remember looking at a picture of all of the victims and wanting to cry because most of them were so young. I remember that so many of my school’s students wrote “Sandy Hook ∞” on their wrists. I remember how shocking it was that one of the safest communities in America was struck by such a tragedy. I remember thinking that it was horrible, but it would probably never happen again. I bet you thought that too.

I have three older sisters. They are six, four and two years older than me. The older two passed through high school only a few years before me but it was so different. Just so you know, there was a shooting at my school prior to me being there. One of my sisters was a student at the time. There was a fight between two kids and one of them pulled out a gun and shot the other. No one else was injured, and the victim survived. What’s crazy is that you should read that and be horrified, but instead you reach the end of the sentences and you’re relieved because it wasn’t a massacre. That’s horrifying. 

I’m not far out of high school myself. I am really glad that it’s over. I wish I didn’t have to include an ever-present fear of my school being shot up in my reasons why, but hey, this is America. You never know what you’re really going to learn from your teachers, but the most unexpected by far was that so many of them took the time out of lessons year after year to educate us on what to do in a school shooting. It is no longer hide under a desk or in a closet. That’s shooting fish in a basket, or so they warned us. No, now you listen for the gunshots. If they are far away, you find a way out. Run, as fast as you can, jump out of windows and run, with your hands up so the police don’t mistake you for the shooter, and scatter somewhere, anywhere. My school is surrounded by neighborhoods and a YMCA. By the time I was in tenth grade I knew exactly which friend’s house I would run to. But if the gunshots are close you can’t run.

In eleventh grade, we had our first realistic active shooter drill. We had some students barricade the door while the rest of us flipped over our desks, spread out, and grabbed something heavy. I opted for our loaned computers, other kids picked up textbooks or large trophies. The new protocol is that if the shooter comes into your classroom, everyone throws their object all at once. It’s meant to buy time for others because at that point you’re dead, but you should at least go down fighting. Oh, and only one person is meant to call 911, so as not to overload the operators. I can’t explain how awful it all was. My teacher stood next to the door with her baseball bat. The only thing that hadn’t changed at that point was the teachers. From ninth to twelfth grade my classes intermittently received speeches from various teachers on how they would protect us. They brought up their families, how much they loved them, how much they loved us, how they were willing to die protecting us, how we shouldn’t feel bad about them doing so but please, please fight like hell once they go down. Do everything we can to escape but if we have to stay then they will protect us till their last breath. And I can confidently say it wasn’t just for classes that they loved because there was a situation where we clearly weren’t the teacher’s favorite class, but they still made it very clear that they would die to protect us. 

In 2016, there was the Pulse nightclub shooting. My school is just outside of Orlando and it was horrendous. In the time, between Sandy Hook and Pulse, there had been 994 more mass shootings in America. Pulse was the deadliest until the Las Vegas music festival shooting took place only a little over a year later. As for me, I was in eleventh grade and had just found out about and joined my school’s Winter Guard team. It was the best part of high school. That season, less than half a year after Las Vegas, Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, had a gunman open fire and kill seventeen people. It happened on Valentine’s Day. One of the victims was on the color guard. My team wrote cards to their team and my school purchased MSD Strong t-shirts to donate in the aftermath. It was another tragedy so close to us. There were a lot of turning points in the violence but the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting was a major one. It brought with it a new wave of activism, and I am continually impressed by the strength of everyone who was affected.

In ninth grade one of my teachers had a baseball bat. It was pretty funny. In eleventh grade, another one went out and bought one. There was nothing funny about it. 

Senior year was my favorite year, of course. I had fewer classes, more time and I was on winter guard for a second season. It was a good year. It’s weird to say that I know. But I didn’t get to separate the good from the bad. The catalyst of school shootings and mass shootings happened at the same time as I was growing up. I’m still growing up and they haven’t stopped. You should be blindsided by me writing of school shootings then jumping back to what was happening in my life. None of it is right. Senior year was great, but the horror didn’t stop. Winter Guard performed on Valentine’s Day that season. We all wore red ribbons with “#MSD Strong” written on them. I still have mine, it hangs with other guard items in my room. The good things keep happening but we don’t forget the bad. I couldn’t separate the ongoing shootings from my high school memories if I tried. It’s all the same timeline. Senior year one of my teachers ended class early to walk us to the gate at the far end of the football field so we know where to run to escape in that direction. We have a whole discussion on school shootings. It was a mixed class, ninth to twelfth graders. Our teacher wanted us to be conscious of what was happening. Marjory Stoneman Douglas was only a few hours away. Our school was constructed so long ago it wasn’t made with a lockdown of this kind in mind. We have to learn escape routes, we have to be vigilant any time we are gathered in an open space, we have to know how to spread out and grab something heavy to fight with. I wish I could’ve gone to high school with my older two sisters. I wish I never had to worry about any of this. 

My college is beautiful and sprawling with open walkways and large trees. But there are days when I walk around and worry. Because if there was a shooter I would be too far from a door to get inside. It would be too open not to be seen. There was a shooting here, in the library. Three people were shot, and one student was paralyzed. It seems like it will never stop. And there’s no safe place to hide. Schools, colleges, nightclubs, churches, music festivals and malls. Places that should be safe but aren’t.

I can’t quite describe what it’s like to grow up as this is happening. I’ve seen it all change. I can’t imagine the horror of having to do such necessary active shooter drills as a kindergartener. I had so, so many fire drills in middle school. By the time I was in eighth grade we were listening for gunshots and scanning the area for where we could run. High school was flat out horrifying in that regard. There’s a song I really like, “If You Could See Me Now” by The Script. It’s a tribute to the father of one of the artists and the parents of another. The first verse begins with “It was February 14th, Valentine’s Day/ The roses came but they took you away”. I can’t hear that anymore without immediately thinking of the Stoneman Douglas shooting. I can’t imagine the pain of losing someone in that way. But I understand the fear that it will happen. My brother is still in high school, so even though I’m “free” the worrying continues for him. 

There have been at least 2,371 mass shootings since Sandy Hook. At least 2,685 people have been killed and 9,884 wounded. So far in 2020, there have been 29 mass shootings with 39 people killed and 114 wounded. The largest break in between mass shootings since Sandy Hook was 11 days between January 8, 2013 and January 18, 2013. From the 1999 Columbine shooting to July 19, 2019, there were 239 school shootings (not including misfires and stopped attempts) and 304 fatalities (including perpetrators). There have been 485 total injuries resulting from on-campus shootings. They have become so common that we don’t even hear about them anymore. I remember breaks where we learned of ongoing school shootings while I was in English and History classes. We talked a little about what we should do in those situations, then went right back to the lesson. 

There is a special kind of rage that you only have if you grew up in my generation. You watch as things change from elementary school to middle school to high school to college. You watch as victims are called actors as if they haven’t survived a shooting, as if they lost no one. You watch as they become activists. You watch as the victim’s parents get elected or fight for legislation. You watch as the people with actual power, the people who have the power to change what’s happening, the people whose job it is to see this problem and create a solution, you watch as they do nothing but shout false promises or vapid insults. 

The point of this letter was not political. I want you to understand what it’s like to grow up this way and watch as the people who are supposed to protect us fail over and over. But it’s an election year so I’m just going to go ahead. Register to vote. Then VOTE. Vote for people who will change things for the better, people who will impose gun control legislation, people who are going to change things. The people we have right now are not doing enough and we are getting murdered because of it. Their inaction is killing us. We need stricter gun control laws. Control, not bans, but we do need control. Better background checks, examinations before guns are bought, and certain guns should not be accessible to the public. Yeah, I said it. AR-15s should not be available. They have killed too many people. If that statement makes you mad, too bad. I’m mad that I had to hear teachers tell my classes they would die for us. I’m mad so many children have been gunned down. I’m mad that this is still an issue. 

We grew up as the shootings were starting, and we were powerless at the time. 

We aren’t powerless anymore.

VOTE.

personally taken

For more information on mass shootings since Sandy Hook visit Vox.

For a timeline of school shootings since Columbine visit Security Baron.

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