Imagine walking into a classroom as a kid and being eye level with a holster. The smiling face of Mr. or Ms. Whoever takes on new meaning. Teachers begin to feel respect like they’ve never felt before. Except it isn’t respect. It’s fear. It’s not that teachers can’t be trusted with guns; humans can’t be trusted with guns. Furthermore, humans with some form of authority definitely can’t be trusted with guns.
On Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, armed with an AR-15 he purchased legally a year earlier, took an Uber to Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He walked into Building 12, a three-story structure that typically holds up to 900 students and 30 teachers, and pulled the fire alarm. As students and faculty exited their rooms, he raised his Smith & Wesson M&P 15 and fired on his former students and teachers, killing 17 people and injuring 14 others, making this the third deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
In 2015, the sixth deadliest shooting in U.S. history occurred about 70 miles south of Eugene, at a community college not unlike our own, in Roseburg, Oregon. All weapons used in that attack had also been purchased legally.
It’s now over three weeks since the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. The emotional outrage from all political spectrums is only now beginning to dissipate to the point where productive conversations can take place. Except, historically, this is where the conversation usually ends. We begin to forget about the grainy videos of students being evacuated from schools; the images of crying classmates mourning their fallen peers. The barrage of “I’m safe” tweets and the tearful statements of grief-stricken parents. The nightly debates on gun control quietly leave the news, having only managed to bring us further from a logical solution.
It’s become one of those issues where the line has already been drawn. Debate becomes utterly superfluous when both sides have their minds made up. If you’re still a Trump supporter in 2018, you’re probably always going to be a Trump supporter. If you still believe that giving people more guns is the answer, amid all the evidence that points to the contrary, then you probably will forever until an affable gym teacher breaks up a fight between your son and another student by shooting first and asking questions later.
This polarization is put under a magnifying glass every time we experience another tragedy. The politicized nature of gun control debates tends to crop out the smaller events in favor of the bigger picture. This has the ability to turn attention away from singular incidents, making it tougher to identify where the actual problem rests. It’s true, no one mass shooting is the same, but there does seem to be a commonality present: the types of weapons used.
Nowhere else on the planet do we see the same amount of mass shootings. According to The American Journal of Medicine, gun deaths are 25.2 percent higher in the U.S. than in any other high-income country. This isn’t because we’re the only nation that doesn’t have gun-toting teachers. It’s because we’re the only country with such lax gun laws. This isn’t because we’re the only nation with individuals suffering from mental health issues. Mental health issues are a global problem. School shootings are a U.S. problem. The Academy For Critical Incident Analysis at John Jay College collected data comparing school shooting incidents from 36 countries, spanning 250 years. They found that the number of such incidents in the U.S. was only one less than all 36 countries combined. The only difference between us and the rest of the world is our access to the type of weapons typically used in these uniquely American mass shootings.
Perhaps this is simply the cost of doing business. In order to flex our Second Amendment rights, kids have to die. It’s a necessary evil in order for individuals to feel safe in this country. This strikes me as ironic because these guns are precisely the reason kids and educators don’t feel safe in the first place.
As students, we have an obligation to keep the conversation going. We must not forget how we felt in the moments directly following an attack. Reliving the debates after a tragedy such as Parkland can be exhausting and uncomfortable, but through this discomfort will come change if we can manage to engage in a dialogue that doesn’t patronize the opposing side. The solution exists within the conversation. The hard part is getting there without wanting to shoot each other.