On May 1st, 1999, the National Rifle Association held their annual conference in Denver, Colorado. At their convention the next year, actor and NRA president Charlton Heston ended his speech, holding up a Flintlock rifle, declaring “I want to say those fighting words for everyone within the sound of my voice to hear and to heed… ‘From my cold, dead hands!'”
Ten days before the NRA’s 1999 convention, on April 20, 1999, twelve students and one teacher were killed, in addition to the two perpetrators, in the Columbine High School massacre. It was, at the time, the deadliest school shooting since the 1960s. In the aftermath of the shooting, various gun control measures were proposed, including a ban on the import of high capacity ammunition magazines and the closure of the “gun show loophole”.
People offered thoughts and prayers.
No measures were passed in the wake of the shooting.
I was a year and a half old.
On April 16th, 2007, thirty two people, in addition to the perpetrator, were murdered in the Virginia Tech Massacre. Less than a year later, on February 14, 2008, five students were killed and seventeen more injured in the Northern Illinois University shooting.
I was 10 years old.
On December 14th, 2012, a gunman stormed into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, and killed 27 people, including the school’s principal, four teachers, and twenty first-grade children.
Twenty children, none older than seven, were murdered in the one place outside their home they expected to be safe at.
In the wake of the shooting, President Obama called for a renewed set of gun controls. The two majors legislative bills proposed, an Assault Weapons ban and Universal Background Check requirements, both failed to garner enough votes to pass in the Senate.
No legislation was passed.
I was 14 years old.
On February 14th, 2018, seventeen people, including fourteen students, were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. A group of student survivors of the shooting formed the advocacy group Never Again MSD, organized the March for Our Lives, a demonstration advocating for stricter gun control legislation.
Politicians in Florida passed a bill following the shooting that banned the sale of bump stocks and raised the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. It did not, however, contain any sort of restriction or ban on assault weapons. The bill also made it legal for teachers to carry a gun while on school grounds.
I was 20 years old.
When I was in grade school, about twice a year we had to practice what were then called “lockdown drills”. The principal would come on the loud speaker, and our teacher would go and lock the door, shut off the lights, and move us into the corner of the room away from the entrance. The purpose of this drill was to prepare us in case a “bad man” got into our school somehow.
These lockdown drills had little effect on me at the time. I wasn’t scared of a lockdown, whatever that was, especially when compared to something like a fire or a tornado. I had seen the damage that a fire or a tornado could cause. A bad man? Far too vague of a term to have any meaning attached to it.
“Why do we have to move away from the door?”
“If we turn the lights off and stay out of view of the door, the bad man will probably think that there isn’t anyone in here.”
By the time I got to high school, the name of the drill had changed from a “lockdown” drill to an “active shooter” drill, but the overall act remained the same. While the actual drill was treated, by the students at least, with about as little respect or seriousness as possible, the actual thought of an active shooter was far more concrete.
I remember asking myself, “what would I do if there was a gunman here?” When I was alone in the bathroom, or taking a test, or even just walking down the hallways, the question would pop into my head.
And it terrified me. What would I do? Would I hide? Fight? Run? Would it even matter? By the time I was in high school and college, I had seen the realities of school shootings. Everyone had.
If someone really wanted to, they could get into a locked down classroom.
If someone really wanted to, they could get their hands on a gun.
If someone really wanted to, they could go to a grade school and murder children.
Because we haven’t done anything to stop them. We haven’t done anything to make it more difficult to acquire a gun. In fact, we’ve made it easier!
My whole life, I’ve been surrounded by a world that doesn’t want to do anything to stop these shootings. Saying never again won’t bring back murdered students. Offering thoughts and prayers doesn’t keep someone from buying a gun. Every time something like this happens, the Onion headline rings truer and truer.
When I got to college and saw the reaction to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, I thought that there would be real change. Real action. Instead, all we got was a toothless bill in Florida, a failed sit-in by House Democrats, and more thoughts and prayers.
After every one of these massacres, politicians and public figures offer their thoughts and prayers, say never again, and voice that something has to be done about this. But nothing gets done. No bills get passed. If they do, they’re spineless pieces of legislation that somehow introduce more weapons into schools, like the Florida bill did.
At some point, you have to ask, how much is too much? According to gun rights advocates (which is an absurd term), any sort of restriction on firearms is tyranny and oppression. People need guns for personal freedom, they say.
Are twenty dead kids, murdered at the hands of the thing you fight so hard for, worth it for that alleged personal freedom? Are you happy that you’ve fought against any sort of restriction that could have prevented this?
My entire life and schooling career has been surrounded and defined by school shootings. I want to be angry. I wish I were surprised and saddened. I want to have the tiniest hope that maybe this time, things will change.
But I’m not.
I’m just numb to it all.
Never again, until it happens again.
On May 24th, 2022, a gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvdale, Texas, and opened fire, killing, at the time of this writing, eighteen children and one teacher.
Politicians offered their thoughts and prayers.
I am 24 years old.