On April 20, 1999, two teenage students, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, shot and killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School. 23 others were wounded before Harris and Klebold committed suicide. The Columbine High School mass shooting shook the nation and sparked a new wave of public outcry for better gun control laws and school safety measures.
19 years later, we are still having the same circular debates about gun control. When Klebold and Harris opened fire on Columbine High School, people everywhere were shocked and horrified. Today some of that shock has given away to numb acceptance. Yet this should not be the case.
The most recent school shooting at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead. Nikolas Cruz entered the school, pulled the fire alarm to draw students out of classrooms, and opened with a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle that he had purchased legally.
In an article for The New York Times, Richard A. Oppel writes, “[There is a factor in common in] five of the six deadliest mass shootings of the past six years in the United States. In each of them, the gunman had an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.” In Florida, it is easier to buy an AR-15 than a handgun.
Though I hate to put a monetary value on the irreplaceable loss of life, or the trauma of living through a shooting, one article calculated that it cost Cruz a little over $700 to kill 17 people. A typical AR-15 is available for $700 and 40 rounds of the bullets used would cost under $12.
This purchase cost Cruz little, but every gun sale goes towards funding the arms economy in our country. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has vast resources, wealth, and political power. The NRA’s influence is one reason so many politicians have been unwilling to improve gun control laws. For example, the NRA gave $11,438,118 to Donald Trump’s campaign and $1,008,030 to Marco Rubio’s most recent senate campaign in Florida.
You cannot assign a value to the pain experienced by survivors and families. A legal settlement will not bring back the dead. However, we can put money into actionable change to minimize future gun violence. The accumulated years of lives lost to gun violence are already far too great.
When news broke of the Parkland shooting, I watched in the gym. I was horrified and deeply saddened, but I was not surprised. It is sickening that mass shootings have become a norm in our country’s culture. Cruz left parents without children, kids without friends, and students without teachers. These deaths were preventable. These are children who will never grow up, never graduate, never get married, never have their own kids. They will never have the chance to fight for their values, or to do work to change the world. These newest victims’ opportunities were tragically cut short by gun violence that could have been prevented. Their lives were stolen.
The effects of mass shootings extend far beyond those killed, or wounded. In a Stanford Law School interview, Law Professor John J. Donohue said, “Seeing your best friend blown away as she stands three feet away from you is scarring even if you have not been physically harmed. A teenager running from the scene of a mass shooting is victimized even if untouched by bullets — as are students and parents around the country who visualize this nightmare.”
Between 1994 and 2004 there was a ban in the US on the sale of assault rifles. Throughout this decade, there were twelve mass shootings, which resulted in 89 deaths. After the ban was lifted, in the decade from 2004 to 2014, there were 34 mass shootings and 302 deaths. That translates to a 183% increase in mass shootings in the decade after the ban was lifted compared to when the ban was in place. Some states, such as California, New York, Connecticut, and Maryland do have state bans on the sales of certains types of semi-automatic assault rifles and limit gun magazine bullet capacity to ten, but continued mass shootings require forceful national action.
Gun violence in the nation goes beyond school shootings. It infiltrates all aspects of our society. In 2016, 1,637 American children died from gunshots. Approximately two dozen children are shot per day in the US. A new World Health Organization report in the American Journal of Medicine discovered that in “high-income nations,” 91 percent of gun-related deaths of youths aged 15 and under occurred in the United States. Among comparable countries, the US has about equal proportions of severe mental illness, yet deaths due to gun violence are exponentially greater.
Columbine. Virginia Tech. Newtown. Las Vegas. Orlando. Parkland. And these are just a few of the deadly mass shootings in recent US history. Each reignites the gun control debate, and the lack of change has become depressingly predictable. Gun control advocates demand legislative action. In counter-argument, second amendment advocates, NRA members and many Republicans declare that we need guns to protect ourselves and protect our rights, or argue that we should focus on mental health.
The only possible legislation that has received any significant Republican backing is bettering background checks. This would not even extend to universal background checks, despite the fact that 93 percent of Americans who live in houses that have guns support this measure.
Some argue that it is too early to talk about gun control after the Parkland shooting. We should respect those mourning. Well, I think it’s about 20 years too late. Your thoughts, prayers, and condolences will never prevent future shootings, or save lives. Action and legislation are the avenues to change. It is time to fight.
I have grown up in two decades rife with gun violence. My generation is ready for change. A vague commitment by Donald Trump to ban bump stocks and reevaluate gun regulation is not enough. I stand with the Parkland students and students across the country who are speaking out against violence and demanding action. I stand with the families and friends of victims and survivors. I do believe that my generation will fight to change laws and to elect ethical congressional representatives who will advocate for gun control. I just only hope that these actions come before many more lives are lost.
We are strong and it is time to fight for better gun regulations. Call your representatives, learn which legislators receive funding from the NRA, and vote. I want my children to grow up in a nation where frequent mass shootings are a bizarre, incomprehensible phenomenon of the past. It is time for change.