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Why We Need Change Now and Not in 5, 10, or 50 Years

When looking at school shootings, past and present, numbers are important. How many people were injured? How many bullets were shot? How old was the shooter (or shooters)? How old were the victims? We even ask ourselves how many days it has been since the last school shooting in this country.

 

Ten. The number of years it took my mother to get pregnant with her one and only child.

 

Twenty. The number of years since the Columbine High School Massacre: one of the worst and deadliest mass shootings in the United States.

 

One. The singular year between the Columbine shooting and the day I was born. April 20, 1999 and April 20, 2000; a date that means a lot more to me – and the world – than just a simple birthday.

 

My mother did everything she could to have a child and prayed that one day she’d bring a healthy baby into to the world to teach kindness, assertiveness, and creativity. You can only imagine her elation when she found out a month before she turned 41 that she was with child. You can also imagine her eternal fear on April 20, 2000, not only because she had gone into labor a month early, but because she was spending a majority of her time in the hospital watching the recounting of the Columbine High School Massacre on the one year anniversary.

 

She recalls telling my father, “I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world like that one,” of which she believes he said something along the lines of “Don’t worry about that now, anyway. It’s a new millennium.”

 

It wasn’t even six months into the year 2000, so things might’ve had the chance to turn around.

 

Unfortunately, two decades later, things haven’t improved at all, and I really did grow up in the world that my mother was desperately hoping would be less violent, dangerous, and worrisome. I grew up with active shooter drills and routine (and occasionally not-so-routine) building and classroom lockdowns. I grew up seeing and participating in marches against gun violence. I grew up hashtagging #Prayfor__ on social media and having whole class discussions dedicated to talking about the tragic state of education in all ways, shapes, and forms.

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The Sandy Hook shooting rattled my middle school self, and Parkland hit too close to home. People my age and younger are afraid of going to school. Fifty years ago, kids weren’t afraid to ride their bikes across town by themselves in the dead of night, and now kids are afraid to step into an educational facility where they most likely grew up with everyone there.

 

With the concept of survivor’s guilt coming to head as of late, with the heartbreaking suicides of two Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and of the father of one of the Sandy Hook victims, it makes me think back to what my mother told my father in the hospital the day I was born.   

 

Nobody wants their children to grow up in a world where a school isn’t safe, nobody can be trusted, and violence lurks in every corner.

 

2018 was dubbed the worst year for school shootings, and I was only a senior in high school, meaning that I went through my last few months before college more on edge than I should have been being as I was getting closer and closer to graduating.

 

BBC wrote in a December 12th article, “At the beginning of 2018, Education Week, a journal covering education in the US, began to track school shootings – and has since recorded 23 incidents where there were deaths or injuries. With many parts of the US having about 180 school days per year, it means, on average, a shooting once every eight school days.”

 

Just that quote alone has three major numbers in it. Remember, when it comes to school shootings, numbers are important.

 

23 incidents in 2018 had some form of casualties, making for a shooting with true physical repercussions every eight days. That’s less than every two school weeks. Not to mention all of the damage these events do to mental health. That’s another story all together.

 

If we don’t focus in on these vital numerical aspects of the tragedies in this country, we may never be able to fully grasp their effect.

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I turned 19 years old on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting this April 20. Since the tragic event occurred in 1999, hundreds of kids, teens, and adults have been injured and killed in similar incidents.

 

Thousands more have been scarred for life, carrying fear, guilt, and burden around with them for the rest of their lives.

 

My mother has gone 19 years with her unfulfilled wish for me coming into a world where mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, and malls weren’t as frequent as they are.

 

It’s been 20 years since the first major school shooting, and clearly things weren’t all butterflies and rainbows from then for this country, but I know that at 19 years old, me, my friends, and this generation is the future that will make a change. We will make sure that April 20 will remain a simple numerical anniversary of the past and not a blatant reminder of how far we have yet to come.

Debra Kate Schafer is a Journalism and Professional Writing major at TCNJ with a background in music journalism, newspaper writing, and radio. When she's not writing, she can be found playing with her dog, laughing at her own jokes, talking about Harry Styles, and eating too much sushi for her own good.
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